Science Museum Live Review

19 04 2012

ImageCongratulations should go to the two brave and hard working presenters of this show. Not only did they memorise and deliver a script that had to be longer than Hamlet’s they also were their own stage hands.

It would not be surprising to learn they also packed away the entire set and drove it themselves to the next venue.

Both were incredibly enthusiastic but Mandy should be singled out for the real sensitivity she showed to the volunteers that were brought out onto the stage.

The writers and producers of this show, however, cannot be so proud. It is one thing to fail to explain something successfully but it is another thing to deliberately mislead.

Sometimes errors creep into shows like this because the presenters are actors with little science training. Actors are used because they are hard working, have been trained in stage craft but mostly because they are cheap. They are certainly not employed for their knowledge of the underlying scientific concepts. Over the course of a long run people stray from their scripts and mistakes are inevitably made that never get picked up on.

Shows of this type also make errors because they are not really about science. They are all about the bang and not about the buck. Shows written as glorified pantomimes or mega children’s parties skip essential information because producers don’t consider the actual science either important or interesting enough to form the central spine of the show.

In this show, however, we were told facts that were just not true.

To give one example apparently balloons filled with ‘Nitrogen’ float because are lighter than air (!) and that when ignited react more vigorously than balloons filled with Hydrogen (!!).

Nitrogen is essentially ‘air’. It is the gas that makes up four fifths of the air. So how can it be lighter than itself? And if Nitrogen really reacted as explosively as it did when ignited in the balloon why don’t we have similar explosions every time we strike a match?

The presenters cannot be blamed for this error, it had to be part of the script. The balloons each had a large ‘N’ and ‘H’ professionally printed onto them. And this wasn’t a difficult bit of science that was glossed over to get to the bang. This was was the whole point of the demo. This was, and on so many levels, just wrong.

Worse still given how easy this would be to change with a simple script rewrite and the issuing of some new plain balloons I can only guess the writers are happy with this treatment? That the Science Museum is happy with it as well*?

The fact that only 100 people bought tickets to see this performance in the 1500 seat Theatre Royal (Glasgow) shows that audiences are not happy.

————

* UPDATE: After writing this review I also emailed the Science Museum in London. This is their response:

Thank you for your e-mail. After reviewing the script and the clip of the show you refer to, we appreciate that this section misrepresents the science. As a result, changes have been implemented to this area of the script and particularly the print on the balloons. We appreciate the need to be rigorous in presenting science which is correct across all of our content and wish to thank you for bringing it to our attention.

I’d like to publicly thank the SM for responding to my email and congratulate them on committing to improve the show.

This clip isn’t from the show I saw but it is representative. Thanks to Dave Ansell for finding it. If you see the show in the future please let me know in the comments what you think to their improvements.

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