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Review by Jade Gadd
On the 4th of November 2017, at around 6pm, a strange rumbling started at the Gala Theatre in Durham. The cause of said rumbling: nerd brains. Festival of the Spoken Nerd had come to the North once again. The show incorporates maths, science and comedy into a stage performance which is intended to be accessible to all. As a self-diagnosed geek, I was more than a little excited to go to this event but unfortunately, I can’t give Festival of the Spoken Nerd the 10/10 I’d hoped for.
The foyer was filled with people crowding around a table of books, badges and post cards. The hard sell continued throughout the show. At times it felt like being in school and constantly being reminded about the rapidly reducing days between now and the next test. How I wished that I had an IQ detecting version of a Geiger counter in that moment, with people choosing to go into what was essentially a maths lesson. Were they all mad or did they just genuinely enjoy numbers and their application?
And so the show began! Matt Parker (my personal favourite), a mathematician, Steve Mould, a physicist, and Helen Arney a, ‘geek songstress,’ all came onto the stage. Matt introduced some novelty ideas with numbers such as calculating Pi (3.14159…) with actual pie, mathematical tiling with bathroom tiles and 360 degree cameras. I had a lot of fun listening to Matt. There wasn’t a whole lot of ‘why’ it worked; it was more of a demonstration to make the audience go “WOW!” and that they did! The line of people waiting for his signature at the end speaks volumes for how good Matt was.
Steve Mould was basically a big kid having a lot of fun on a stage, whilst other big kids enjoyed watching. He used lasers and strobe lighting and a gravity mimicking drill, as well as microwaves and footballs and anything else you would find in Sheldon Cooper’s childhood shed. The guy put an exploding bar of soap to music which was so weirdly touching that, eventually, when the soap went back down to normal soap size, the audience audibly went “awww,” as if it were already the 6th of January and all of the Christmas decorations had disappeared.
The rest of this review is going to take a negative turn, firstly, with regards to the singing. Helen really should have given her vocal chords a rest. Whilst the quality of her voice was not awful, her ability to play the ukulele was only bad. The songs themselves were interesting. The first made me think she may have found an old first draft of Monty Python’s Galaxy song and decided to sing it as a joke because it was just that terrible. Her second wasn’t actually her song at all; it was “The Elements” by Tom Lehrer. The audience was meant to cheer when their favourite element came up, but that failed miserably. The third of her songs would have been better if the audience had actually joined in with the painfully repetitive lines. It was about how radiation can be measured relative to bananas, which is an interesting topic. I think the song was saved by Steve and Matt in their banana costumes. It reminded me of the really bad songs, we all know are meant to be awful in pantomimes, which get interrupted a few seconds in because even the bad guy can’t take it. Matt and Steve played the two reluctant participants who make the audience laugh with their awkwardness. Her final song was the worst. I implore you, if you choose to see this show, take some earplugs.
While seeing the audience in sphere form and counting as a swinging baked good measured pi to a degree most physicists would be happy to use was great, I honestly don’t think it was worth the money. I wouldn’t recommend it to many people partly because, although it was accessible, it’s not worth going through the singing and the tedious tweets from the audience which seemed to go on forever. The funniest part of the evening was the audience. Overall it was an overpriced book tour with old books. I wouldn’t go again unless there was more of Matt, no singing and seriously discounted tickets.
How very disappointing.