Science

Review: Festival of the Spoken Nerd

I was unsure what to expect from the nerdy comedy trio that comprises Festival of the Spoken Nerd, even after my interview with them a week before. But I can assure you, I was not left disappointed. Their show was the perfect balance of cheesy jokes, geeky songs and maths – with a bit of fire thrown in for good luck.

Before the performance even began I was hooked – on screen, a pictorial example of natural selection was shown, although initially I was too engrossed in the pretty colours to notice. The trio introduced themselves, giving each other heart warming introductions and creating a Venn diagram of their relationships, the first of many geeky references to come.

The first ‘experiment’ was carried out by Matt (stand-up mathematician) and Steve (the experiments guy) and was impressively called ‘dangerous maths’. They explained how, with the use of parabolas (a satellite dish shape), light could be focussed on a single point, creating enough heat to make an explosion. As The Playhouse’s health and safety wouldn’t allow gun powder and cannon balls, the trio used an old heat lamp and flash cotton. Admittedly, they did manage to ignite the flash cotton and make a bit of a ‘poof’, but I expecting a bit more from an experiment deemed ‘dangerous’ in the title. Perhaps only the use of cannon balls and explosives could have satisfied me.

After this slight anticlimax the show progressed, and improved. Helen caught the audience’s attention with her song, ‘The Sun Has Got its Huff On’: a ballad about woes of the neglected sun. Apparently people pay more attention to other stars these days, the sun is feeling a bit left out. Helen’s song is approved by the Open University as a study tool, and was a success with the audience too.

Steve and Matt returned to the stage with multiple sketches, one of which resulted in the loss of my Haribo, as Matt showed how the final numbers of a bar code can be predicted. The first half then culminated in what I found to be one of the highlights. Helen played her ukulele and wooed the audience with a song called ‘Statistically I Love You’, with OHP backing vocals. I’m sure most of you remember OHPs (over head projectors) from primary school? The song was a blend of cheesy maths puns with plenty of innuendos and biscuit-based jokes.

After the interval, Festival of The Spoken Nerd presented even more maths, music and fire. Helen attempted to get the audience to sing a googol (1 followed by 100 zeroes) and then a googolplex (1 followed by a googol zeros). Matt tried to demonstrate how this was not possible using an analogy involving fruit flies called Drosophila melanogaster, only to be heckled by the audience: he had forgotten to italicise the name of the species of fly. The fact that the audience were nerdy enough to correct the scientists on stage left me frankly a little embarrassed. I was surrounded by nerds; heckling nerds.

The show concluded with another of Helen’s songs played on her ukulele, accompanied a pyrotechnics display courtesy of Matt and Steve. A contraption called a Ruben’s Tube was used to produce flames which change colour and appeared to dance to the music as the sound reverberated around the tube. It was an impressive display and a great accompaniment to Helen’s best song of the show, which was about the reproductive strategies of animals (sounds odd, but being a zoologist myself I found it hilarious).

I found the Festival of the Spoken Nerd to make a successful balance between funny and interesting. The trio worked well together on stage, bouncing their performances off one another and each bringing something unique to the show. The show was still enjoyable for the non-scientists out there, as my boyfriend will testify, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Alice Burke

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Science

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