This is a jolly hour of geeky lunchtime fun, part way between the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, QI, Blue Peter and some dodgy Sixties Czechoslovakian children’s animation.
Newcomer Helen Keen has the breathless enthusiasm and received-pronunciation accent of a novice science teacher at a minor public school. She’s full of admiration for the men and women who had the vision to foresee humans breaking free of the earth’s gravity, and the dedication to do the science to make it so – even if there was little interest in rocket technology until the Germans started developing the V2 rockets in the war.
The history of the subject throws up its heroes and eccentrics, who Keen is, well, keen to introduce us to. Yes, there’s a danger you might learn something here, but all the information is delivered with such lightness of touch, you could never object.
Yes, there are graphs and Venn diagrams, plus lots of props and audience involvement is used to bring the subject to life.
In a tiny Gilded Balloon venue, the budget is hardly NASA-sized, more frugal 50s B-movie – so everything is an endearingly makeshift construction of cooking foil, cardboard and papier-mache. One audience volunteer is recruited to be President John Kennedy, making his pledge to put an American on the Moon by the end of the Sixties, another gets to be the wormhole allowing Keen to jump around in time to tell her story – and he gets a costume.
Keen meshes the story of her own interest in space and rockets into the story, courtesy of some lo-fi shadow puppets, which again make a sweetly funny virtue out of financial necessity.
The ‘puny human’ makes for a charming and cheerful guide through her obsession, remaining animated but never getting carried away. The audience become induced to share her passion, gamely joining in the fun.
There’s no greater ambition here than to have a bit of merriment around a pet topic, and the nice-but-nerdy Keen achieves that with ease and charm. On those terms it is, aptly enough, a blast.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett