Domestic Science is a complex but perfectly balanced equation. Helen Arney and Rob Wells are a real-life couple who met when they both did spots in a Robin Ince science comedy showcase in the same room - the basement of The Canon’s Gait - at the Fringe a year ago. This makes a lot of sense given the genealogy of their comedy: a mixture of science jokes and Guardian chic. Added to the mix are a couple of special guests, in this case an entertaining science lesson from Dr Bunhead and a fantastic shadow puppet show presented by comic Helen Kean.
Arney and Wells’ material tells the story of how their relationship formed around their mutual love of science. It’s a great dynamic that adds a solid structure and extra layer of interest to their subject matter, which is prolific enough now to fill a moderately sized sci-comedy subgenre. The bit, for example, in which they explore why turmeric turns noodles red answers an interesting pop-science question whilst also creating a surreal audience interaction, distinctive visual motif and demonstrating the couples’ shared obsessiveness. There’s always a lot going on at once, which makes the show great fun to watch.
Helen Kean’s set is more a fascinating, funny lecture than traditional stand-up. This works well because her topic - the history of our fascination and mythologising of the moon - is inherently comedic, especially when we get to The Sun newspaper reporting the sightings of large ‘man-bat’ creatures through the lens of a Victorian telescope. The shadow-puppet show that accompanies this combines with Kean’s excellent comic timing to gain punchlines from historical facts, quotations and points of visual interest. It would seem like heady stuff were the puppet show not delivered in the translucent belly of a man-sized tinfoil robot.
Dr Bunhead’s set is equally elaborate, culminating in the imitation of a rocket launch by asking us to shake our chairs whilst he pours copious amounts of real cloud around us like a watery smog. Seeing indoor clouds that condense on the ceiling and floor into real puddles is certainly more than we expected from a free comedy show, something that is possibly also true of the host venue. Bunhead is like a clown at a party for very intelligent children. It’s a feeling exacerbated when Arney and Wells throw a storm of red balloons over us that we bounce off the ceiling to imitate the motion of AM radio waves across the earth.
Domestic Science creates a real intimacy with its audience, making a virtue of its obvious, unashamed intelligence. It does so by not just chatting about science, but about what science means to people. The show’s domestic interest collapses the heady and intellectual into the familiar, creating a beautiful, surreal and highly entertaining set that is surprisingly educational whilst remaining relentlessly comedic.