REVIEW: Ernest Rutherford: Everyone can Science! (The Basement)

Sampson plays a convincing Rutherford.

Side Splitty Stuff [by Sharu Delilkan]

Sampson plays a convincing Rutherford.
Sampson’s whacky take on Rutherford.

I worry about the title of Nic Sampson’s new show Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science! mainly because people might get the wrong impression thinking that it is a boring show about splitting the atom. And although Sampson hails from Gen Y, I suspect a majority of his generation may not even equate Rutherford with splitting the atom, but may have seen him on the 100 Kiwi ‘pound’ note.

As always Sampson ventures into the real world with Dali-esque imagination that draws out the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fantasies in us all – even in such an austere Victorian setting as Ernest’s earnest 1870’s England. What he does with great success is take a scientific title, which we think we are familiar with but take us to a more human place, and it couldn’t be further from what we expected to encounter. This is reinforced by passing the $100 note with Rutherford’s face on it around the audience while humanising his scientific god-like status with marital problems, racism, ambition, bad French and wild imagination.

Sampson elevates the 19th century Lord Rutherford beautifully before gently drawing him down to earth, and into a man of feeling, passion and beakers. The use of the lecture setting similar to Stuart Devenie’s performance in Hatch or The Plight of the Penguins, works a treat coupled with bringing in willing and gentle audience participation – the unpredictable nature of which highlighted Sampson’s off-the-cuff acting and improvisation skills.

I laughed loudly and frequently because Sampson had set himself up to have to deal with unexpected circumstances. And the beauty of it was that deal with the circumstances he surely did – with the humility and gentlemen-ness of a Victorian ‘skientist’.

Whilst splitting the atom may be impressive, Sampson’s breaking the fourth wall was absolutely hilarious and made us all feel part of an in-joke we all enjoyed. If I had to nit-pick I would say that the metaphor of Sampson’s Lord Rutherford’s fantastical adventure of splitting the atom was a tad over explained in the conclusion, which paled in comparison to the cleverness and subtlety of the rest of the show.

I admit to being a fan of Sampson’s quirky view on life and his humorous take on what appeared to be a science biography was genius right from inception to execution. As Douglas Adams might have said “nice moustache and thanks for all the pencils”…

To quote one of our mates who came along for the night: “his random choice of audience participation means he could easily have a different show every night.” So you definitely need to go at least once – but you could easily go to every one of the remaining shows and see an different show every time – genius!

Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science! plays at The Basement until 1 June. Details see THE BASEMENT.

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