Eight lessons and carols for godless people, Bloomsbury Theatre, London

4.00

Rational festive cheer with the godless squad

Before this gathering of comedians, musicians and scientists to celebrate their own Holy Trinity of Christmas – namely the secular, the rational and the scientific – I felt that what I was about to see was as much a kind of alternative Royal Variety Performance as it was a revamped Royal Institute Christmas lecture, as the show had been billed.

The first thing that the MC and curator of the event, Robin Ince, did was to give voice to that thought, adding: "Later we will have the cast of Hollyoaks singing about wave-particle duality." Ince's intro then set out to provide some thematic basics and laid into the Darwin-deniers he had stumbled across on YouTube: "if they say 'no Darwin, no Hitler' that's a bit like saying 'no Newton, no gravity', 'no Pythagoras, no Toblerone'."

While some of the subsequent acts were more relevant than others to the gathering, Ricky Gervais was the "celebrity" turn. He rarely seems to do well in short time slots and used this one to tell an off-message and off-colour joke about raping a pensioner. As Ince said after Gervais departed the stage: "Ricky did say that his set would be as much about science as Politics [his last but one tour] was about politics."

The remit of a celebration of the wonder of the universe was an easier brief for Chris Addison, a comedian whose routines are obsessed with rational thought processes. After his overture about evolution and the similarity between chimps and humans ("we both like a cup of tea after moving a piano, don't we?") he celebrated language and imagined how it may have originated from a prehistoric cave couple becoming so agitated with each other that the grunts gave way to exasperated exchanges: "My mother warned me about you!" "Oh really, how?"

If tonight was partly about reaching for the stars above our caves and then explaining them – as Richard Dawkins did with a reading from his book Unweaving the Rainbow, and mathematician Simon Singh did with his breezy tour round the Big Bang theory and how it impacted on the lyrics of Katie Melua – it was also about star turns.

The two stand-out performances came from Stewart Lee and Tim Minchin. Lee started with his first ever joke about how he was using hard drugs to get over his dependence on born-again Christianity. He went on ironically to knock the fact that the Godless shows had multiplied to three nights, with a comment about the "creeping consumerism of secularism", before giving Dawkins the best back-handed compliment he could by saying that he had started to believe in God, creationism and intelligent design because what else could have created something as "complex and intricate as Professor Dawkins?"

Meanwhile, Minchin's superb beat poem about debunking the beliefs of a woo-meister, or pseudo scientist, really got to grips with the message of the evening. "You can't know anything, knowledge is merely opinion," says his nemesis, to which he asks whether she uses that basis to select which exit she leaves the house in the morning, the front door or the window on the first floor. Further into the poem the value of homeopathy was put under the microscope with the familiar conclusive cry of the sceptic that successful alternative medicine is, in fact, known as medicine. This neatly dovetailed with the previous act, journalist and doctor Ben Goldacre, who gave a stark account of the dangers of "vitamin peddlers" in relation to the suppression of antiretroviral treatment for Aids. That Minchin's turn came after what was understandably a segment that teetered on the emotional and angry was all the more impressive.

Minchin's underlying plea for hard evidence was a theme adeptly taken up by Gavin Osbourne who was by far the most relevant and effective musical turn of the evening, singing that leaps of faith are best taken by those who can fly.

What did fly was the three hours of the show itself, and while some of the other turns were merely passable – Josie Long's too obvious and Richard Herring's a little wasteful – it mattered little, as enough, dare I say it, faith had been built up to send the audience home with Christmas cheer.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial