Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking

The most striking thing about the (almost-entirely) one-man show Relativitively Speaking is that apparently the German accent is still supposed to be funny. Considering the landscape of international politics and xenophobia, I’m surprised that a joke made based on the word ‘sheet’ is really still part of the currency of ’joke’. This is just one of the many problems of a show that doesn’t seem to know what it’s supposed to be – regardless of the fact that you’d think selling itself as a ‘lecture’ would have the pretty easy task of being just that.

No one can fault John Hinton’s dedication to the role: he goes for it with all the enthusiasm of a hyena attacking a corpse.

Set in America in 1933, Relativitively Speaking is set up as a lecture given by Albert Einstein in front of an audience of students, guests and scientists. We then follow Einstein’s explanation of his theory of relativity in clear and accessible terms. John Hinton, the exuberant lead, greets guests at the door with a loud hammy German accent and enormous hair, replete with red bow tie. This exploration was absolutely the most successful (though small) part of the just over one hour running time; Hinton uses volunteers from the audience to explain in simple ways the complicated nature of Einstein’s physics, along with props and continual references to ‘getting it on.’ These moments in the show were undoubtedly its best and I was genuinely interested to hear more.

Unfortunately, the inclusion of songs and rambling monologues soon demonstrated that the science included in this lecture would be short-lived. Relativitively Speaking is all over the place, attempting to mix the saccharine with rap and the schmaltzy with sex jokes. A moment of squeezed-out poignancy about Einstein’s theory and its use in the atom bomb is undercut quickly by yet another poor joke, and entirely killed by a bizarre inclusion of a puppet revealed to be Einstein’s brain. The jokes, though advertising themselves as awful, are relentless. The songs also completely derail any flow, particularly because it was difficult, at times, to understand what Hinton was saying. And the rap by MCsquared speaks for itself: being ‘down with the kids’ has never been more uncool. The biggest laugh of the night was probably the two volunteers who performed a cheeky mime under a sheet during a demonstration of black holes, which says a lot about the quality of the laughs.

The show seems to be a continued explication of the infamous picture of Einstein with his tongue out, but has really, really, really, run with it. No one can fault John Hinton’s dedication to the role: he goes for it with all the enthusiasm of a hyena attacking a corpse. But is enthusiasm really enough to save a show so hit and miss? Sadly, I think not.

Reviews by K D C Lewin

Key Theatre / Pleasance Theatre, London

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The Blurb

Join Albert for a lecture like none you’ve ever seen. Accompanied on piano by his wives and mum and by guest rapper MC Squared, the genius behind the übercoolest moustache in science quantum leaps us through two Theories of Relativity and two very big bombs. Sussex University peer reviewed. Warning: features wurst sausage joke ever. “Something close to brilliance” ***** (The Times), “The clearest – and certainly the funniest – explanation of the Theory of Relativity I know” (John Lloyd, Creator of QI)

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