The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes, Wilton's, London
Imagine This, New London, London
Treasure Island, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London

Scientific inquiry in the 17th century makes great drama, but the Holocaust makes a lousy musical

Of science, we expect cool reason, solid facts, firm conclusions; of theatre, passion, ambiguity, uncertain outcomes. In The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes, the two worlds merge, so that science becomes the more flexible and creative art form, the stage's response to it, preening and grotesque.

The stern philosopher of the title, frustrated by the failure of his leaden pamphlets, rashly writes a staged dialogue in which he challenges his rival, the wealthy and devout scientist Robert Boyle. The result is one of the many splendid moments in Adriano Shaplin's often amusing play for the RSC, with all the farcical elements of unfortunate timing, humiliation and revelation.

Hobbes's audience are the questing scientists and amateurs who are the founders of the Royal Society: Boyle himself, neurologist Thomas Willis, astronomer John Wilkins, and the mathematician John Wallis – "WWW, easy to remember", as they are introduced to the newly crowned King Charles II, Arsher Ali's languid, Russell Brand-alike dilettante. For Cromwell is dead; the actors, Rotten and Black, can practise their dark arts again, and science, as long as it is flashy, like the king's wristwatch – "accurate to within two or three hours a day" – will get valuable royal patronage.

Boyle and his dextrous but malformed assistant, Robert Hooke, are grappling with the nothingness of air. As Hooke's observers freeze around the demonstrating table we see the shade of Joseph Wright of Derby's painting Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump, the obscure shadows of ignorance broken by flashes of illumination.

Shaplin's play about the pursuit of knowledge and the ossification of experience is given the full RSC treatment at Wilton's, itself a miracle of preservation, all decked out with ladders, scaffolds and galleries for this production, and with electric violin and cello punctuating the action.

Amanda Hadingue as Boyle points up his unworldly otherness, with Jack Laskey wild and restless as Hooke, Stephen Boxer white with indignation as Hobbes, and James Garnon and Angus Wright poutingly outré as the thespians. It is a bold playwright who opens his second act with the Rotten protestation, "What is the meaning of this play? It's ranting shit!" Shaplin pulls it off.

Another show, another play within a play, this time "Masada", staged by the Warshowsky theatrical family, who are herded into the Warsaw ghetto after a blissful last summer's day at the beginning of Imagine This.

No one can fault the nobility of intention in Shuki Levy and David Goldsmith's musical. They head into deep waters at a time when many stick to the shallows of pop nostalgia and shows of the film of the book of the recipe. Opera, after all, thrives on its themes: persecution, heroism, love across the divide, faith, and the spiritual uplift of art. But Springtime for Hitler casts a long shadow across the Holocaust as seen from the musical stage, and there are moments in Imagine This when the laugh and the gasp come in the same breath. "You'll love it," says Daniel, played with distinction by Peter Polycarpou, to convince a Nazi commander that "Masada", the story of Jews persecuted by the Romans, will be appropriate for the ghetto audience. "It has singing, dancing, and all the Jews die in the end."

Sing and dance they do, raising fine voices proudly above the fear and loss, and taking the occasional side-turn into novelty numbers, plain daft staff-thumping and comic riffs. And this, in the end, is the problem. The deaths are too many, the memories too painful, the cruelty too unspeakable to be borne by this art form. "They say prepare to die," sings one victim, "and now I feel like dancing." I think not.

Tom Haines's original music for Treasure Island occasionally bubbles up into a brief chorus, but matters piratical off the coast of Somalia made this scramble for buried treasure look like a pedalo outing. Studiously avoiding the dot and carry-one gait traditionally accorded Long John Silver, Keith Allen lists 10 degrees to port, dragging a huge leather-clad false leg in his wake, setting about assailants with his crutch and threats rasped in a flat mockney drone. The hearty cast persevere with the aid of many ropes and barrels to navigate Ken Ludwig's faithful if hefty adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale. But for all the aerial choreography and gunfire, the default position is for characters to stand in a row and shout their lines at the audience. My seven-year-old companion took it all in and then pronounced his best bit to be Ben Gunn's yearning for cheese. It's rewarding enough, then, but not solid gold; more like finding a fiver in the pocket of an old coat.

'The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes' (0844 800 1110), to 6 Dec; 'Imagine This' (0844 412 4654), booking until 28 Feb; 'Treasure Island' (020-7930 8800), to 28 Feb



Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
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 timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?