BWW Review: SPACE SHAMBLES, Royal Albert Hall
Space Shambles, hosted by astronaut Chris Hadfield and comedian Robin Ince, was part of the Royal Albert Hall's inaugural Festival of Science on Friday, 15 June.Space Shambles was part science lecture, part concert, part comedy gig, and I don't think it ever quite worked out what it wanted to be. As with a lot of one-night shows with large bills, it felt somewhat underrehearsed and overran madly.
On top of that, the technical requirements of the various acts seem to have dictated the running order, which meant it didn't fell like it quite built to the climax that it deserved. As is often the way with one-off events, there were some sound balance problems with the vocals and the music and a few mic problems too, but nothing earth-shatteringly terrible.
It's also difficult to pitch these shows at a level that works for everyone: some of the science jokes went over my head, but then a few of the talks might be a little entry level for the serious science fans in the audience.But - and this is a big but - Chris Hadfield is one of the best communicators about science around. I could have watched a whole evening of just him chatting to people about space and science. And, perhaps unsurprisingly considering his rock star status among recent astronauts, he makes it all look so easy.
From talking you through the technicalities of a space walk to interviewing (and subtly keeping on topic) Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickhart, he handled it all with aplomb, and meant that I forgave the show pretty much anything. If there's one thing I'll remember from Space Shambles, it's that space smells like witches.
Not all of the other scientists were quite as polished as Hadfield, but the six-minute slots (complete with an onstage timer seemingly referencing various countdowns) made it really tricky for them. For some, the slot was about enough - for others, well I could have listened to Professor Monica Grady for twice as long at least.
There were experiments (working out Pi using a pie and a pendulum) and equations. There were tributes to Stephen Hawking - from Hadfield, who had been at Westminster Abbey earlier in the day for the memorial service - as well as recently departed astronauts Alan Bean and John Young.
There was a laser version of moon landing arcade game being played by an actual astronaut who tested the moon lander. There was a Hawaiian native talking about navigation using the stars of the Pacific night sky. There was puppetry - an astronaut called Sammy watched proceedings for most of the evening with two puppeteers and provided extra visual interest beyond the big screen and the speakers.
There was music - from an onstage band, Steve Pretty and the Origin of Species, and She Makes War and Grace Petrie. And of course Hadfield did his David Bowie - but with the marvellous Sheila Atim taking over to do the second half of the song. There were so many changes of direction it made your head reel.
Late in the evening, Stewart Lee's comedy set riffed on astronaut rivalries and egos (while Hadfield lurked in the background like an eminence grise waiting to pounce), which added to the schizophrenic tone of the evening. The band Public Service Broadcasting finished the show, and I emerged blinking into the evening wondering what I'd just seen.
However, the enthusiastic applause and hundreds of questions apparently submitted via Twitter during the interval for the Q&A suggest it hit the spot for the target audience. And if I get a chance to watch Chris Hadfield "in conversation" with anyone again, I'll be there in a flash.
Space Shambles was at the Royal Albert Hall on 15 June