Uncaged Monkeys, Hammersmith Apollo, London
Friday 20 May 2011
Dubbed "the ugliest tour in showbiz" by Dara O Briain and a gathering for "geeks" and the "disenfranchised" by host Robin Ince, Uncaged Monkeys lets loose a live version of Radio 4's comic look at science, The Infinite Monkey Cage and follows on from Ince's similar science-minded live shows Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People.
The firmament of this particular science-meets-comedy venture counts among its stars, professor of genetics, Steve Jones, mathematician Simon Singh, doctor and academic Ben Goldacre, TV's favourite particle physicist Brian Cox, comic-book guru Alan Moore, cult singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, plus comedian and science graduates Dara O Briain and Helen Arney.
Inevitably such a disparate array of talent and learning gives some mixed results, especially if the control measurement is the kind of comedy show normally housed by the Apollo. However, while one might question the order of the turns (Ben Goldacre's measured tackling of secretive pharmaceutical companies perhaps strikes too gloomy a note for a de facto closing act), no other show could promise to teach you that the hummingbird pictured on the back of a £10 note with Charles Darwin is not native to the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin's evolutionary theory was shaped. This morsel of information was passed on by genetics professor Steve Jones, who also managed to inject his stint with regular flashes of humour. For example, on creationists he remarked: "I don't mind if they burn my books as long as they buy them first."
While Robin Ince ensured that the introductions were gag-filled, it wasn't always easy to mix matters with mirth. Brian Cox, who Robin Ince dubbed the George Formby of the Stars ("i'nt it brill? In't moon nice?"), had so much information to impart on the significance of the Hadron Collider, among other things, that he proved perhaps a little too awesome. While the ever-youthful brainbox did reach for the occasional easy laugh, Cox left on a striking message about the small percentage of government spending on science, noting that the banking bailout had cost "more money than the UK has spent on science since Jesus".
Ben Goldacre similarly inspired as much disbelief as he did wonder with his aforementioned contribution to the evening that had merits other than artistic on which it could be judged.
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