Review: Ministry of Science

“Look, look, look! We've got explosions and things that go bang and things that make your hair stand on end and we're going to run 100,000 volts through a guy. And light sabers. And a hovercraft made with a leaf blower...

“And farting!”

Like, what's not to like? Ministry of Science promised – and delivered - twice in one day: first with a dedicated schools performance; and then to a more usual audience of parents (though given this was 6pm, mostly mums) and children of all ages. Well, almost.

One surprise, sat in the audience for Ministry of Science's explosive show at the Broadway this week, was just how young many of those attending were. Because the science on display, and the explanations and some of the (appalling) jokes, like …

  • Two atoms walk down the street. One says, “I think I've lost an electron.” The other says, “Are you sure?” The first replies, “Yes, I'm positive”.

        Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. (There were worse).

...a lot of this stuff felt like it would be way beyond the ken of the average 11 year old, let alone the stream of 7 and 8 year old children invited up on to stage to “assist” and clearly loving every moment of it.

That, in turn, created more than a few moments-worth of dissonance. Because, as reviewer, one is simultaneously audience member and audience-watcher. And it felt, at times, as though the show should not work. Like the stubborn bumblebee that, as experts have it, should not fly.

If someone pitched this show to me, i'd have had my doubts.

Not about the whizz-bang-flashery of it. Rather, the way they opened, with a request for children to shout out sources of energy: kinetic, chemical, nuclear, and so on. The explanation of kinetic energy. Not to mention the swift canter through the history of the science they were about to unleash, including reference to the fact that the liquefaction of Nitrogen was first demonstrated at the Jagiellonian University in the late 19th century.

I mean, who cares? Who, even, can spell Jagiellonian? Except me, for one, because that institution, one of the foremost universities in Europe and situated in Krakow, in Poland, was where my own father studied. Medicine, not chemistry. And certainly not in the 1880's. Just how old do you think I am, anyway?

Still, it flew. The show. The bumblebee. And all manner of household objects called into service of this incredible fusion of geek and comedy. They even found the time - just shy of two minutes!) to perform The Elements Song, created by comic genius Tom Lehrer, in 1959.

Not just perform it: but impart various supporting facts. Like the date of its composition. Or that it is that much shorter because, back then, we only knew of 102 elements. Whereas today we are aware of at least 118. Or maybe 115. The various international committees that rule on such stuff are still arguing that one.

I doubt – science teachers take note – that much of this will stick. Though I could be wrong.

What will stick, and that is worth a dozen times mere facts, is the enthusiasm that gripped the children: and that is there not only in the faces and high shrieks of those present, but also in the videos with which Ministry of Science illustrate their other mission in life, which is in-school performance. For many that will dissipate on the morn. For some, i'd guess, this experience could be transformational, alerting them to the possibilities in science in a way that a modern day health-n-safety-heavy school curriculum can not.

As for the mums, they had a good time of it too. I share their relief. For, having spent years accompanying two children to cinema and theatre, I well know what it is like to settle in once again for a show that your youngest will love and which, you know, will provide all the intellectual challenge of your bezzie's instagram meal collection.

The one slightly jarring note, which I share here for completeness, is comment by a couple of the grown-ups that they found it slightly off, after shelling out an adult ticket price for the show, to be heavily sold glo-sticks in the interval. Yes: they were part of the show. But maybe – helpful comment, honest! – they could find a way to wrap this cost up in the overall package.

Otherwise, great show, great experience. And if the Broadway can manage to do so, they'll be bringing it back later this year or sometime next.

Four stars.