Award-winning Oxford research chemist Peter Rook is a stickler for scientific detail. While many of us are happy to live our lives blissfully unaware as to how our mobile phones actually work, or exactly which chemical reactions are causing all the pretty colours in our fireworks displays, throughout his life Peter has refused to engage with the world without understanding the scientific theory behind it first. That is until the day a mysterious package arrives at his lab.
Cleverly written, warm-hearted and enjoyable
Rook is warmly portrayed by Martin Stewart, who is so convincing as the former chemistry lecturer you half wonder whether the entire story is actually true. Playing to a packed out afternoon audience in The Warren’s Theatre Box, he deftly mixes humour with storytelling and even a few chemistry facts are thrown in for good measure.
The mid-afternoon slot saw a mixed audience in attendance and although the recommended age is for over 10s, there were a quite few younger kids watching too. Stewart managed to keep everyone enraptured for the hour, a great achievement considering this was a wordy one-man show. He had an excellent rapport with the audience, who burst into fits of giggles in response to many a well-timed raised eyebrow.
Stewart’s gentle comedy stylings see him take dad jokes up a notch to their next evolutionary stage: chemistry teacher jokes. If you’re looking for chemical element themed punch lines, you’re certainly in the right place. As a result, there’s plenty of material for chemistry geeks (marked out by a couple of extra loud laughs in the audience) to spark off, but don’t worry if you failed your Chemistry GCSE, there’s farce and slapstick to keep you entertained too. Stewart manages to poke fun at scientists and Fringe theatre in a way that conveys respect to both.
Bad Chemist is storytelling at its purest and you can’t help but be drawn in by Rook’s dilemma and his increasingly frustrated mind. The story itself is intelligently structured, using heartfelt flashbacks and the actinoids (radioactive elements with the atomic numbers 89-103) to break up the lengthy text. Stewart even manages to inject his jolly chemistry lecturer with a little darkness, these moments of shade helping us to better see his transformation once he has seen the light. After such a skilful build up, the ending feels just a little lacking. It could just be the child in me, but I would also have liked to see a little more chemistry spectacle – perhaps even a basic experiment demonstration. Maybe this would have distracted from Bad Chemist’s joyful simplicity, but I think there could be potential for a little added awe in the name of science.
Bad Chemist is a cleverly written, warm-hearted and enjoyable show that is bound to inspire delight in theatre-goers no matter whether they can list the periodic table or not.