Theatre: Not with a bang

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The Independent Culture
"FOR THE last time this century," run director Andy Arnold's programme notes, "the Arches Theatre Company inflicts upon its long-suffering patrons another attempt to overstretch itself." It's an appropriate introduction to this cheerfully ramshackle concoction of theatre, vaudeville, circus and nuclear physics, exploring the double-edged nature of scientific advancement over the last hundred years. Appropriate, that is, not only in acknowledging that the project's aims considerably outstrip its resources, but more importantly in its (modestly tongue-in-cheek) reference to the venturesome ambition that's long been the company's hallmark, whether in its highly- praised productions of Pinter and other modern classicists, or multi-media extravaganzas like the current show.

That said, The End Part One is unlikely to take its place alongside previous site-specifically devised adaptations like Metropolis and Caligari, among the Arches' notable successes. Though certainly great fun, and buoyed along with a gleeful knockabout energy, in dramatic and structural terms it's a decidedly rough-and-ready affair, while darker underlying themes are disappointingly underdeveloped. An adaptation/updating of Ewan MacColl's 1940s play Uranium 235, it essentially presents the argument that far from being a universal blessing, 20th century science has instead brought us to the brink of planetary self-destruction.

The action kicks off in the bar, where we're joined by a five-piece jazz band, an end-of-the-pier-style warm-up man, a colourful array of strolling players and our MC, Professor Chanterelle, welcoming us as guests at his party, to celebrating science's legion achievements in helping to create a modern-day "age of the common man".

Later we meet the Grim Reaper himself. There follows a series of cabaret-style turns, among them Marie Curie as a tango dancer and Einstein as a circus clown. Beyond its technical shortcomings, however, the fundamental problem with the piece is its failure to engage with the continuing history of science during the 50 years separating MacColl's era and ours. When he wrote his play, the horrors of total war and the nuclear bomb represented a newly ultimate incarnation of science's powers to destroy; developments since then have rendered the arguments considerably more complex than The End Part One allows.

Sue wilson

Until Nov 27 (0141 221 4001)