Ron Butlin is the Edinburgh Makar (poet laureate) and he is a skilled and sensitive writer. However, with musicians Dick Lee and Anne Evans he has created a show so nice, so twee, that it smooths over the colour and interest of its subject matter; the contribution that Edinburgh has made to science. Such niceness seems almost surreal and it means that no-one under the age of forty will take the show seriously, which is a shame because it’s about something very interesting indeed.
Edinburgh Science, Edinburgh Magic! begins with a pretty melody on a flute,which is joined quickly by a clarinet. Dick Lee’s music is certainly competent; he’s an experienced and highly trained musician, as is Anne Evans and they work well together, tackling some tricky runs and syncopation. However, his composition is so straight down the line, so predictable, that this skill is forgotten under the presence of yet another jazz-influenced bassline.
Butlin’s poetry is well-crafted, with occasional moments where insight meets felicity of linguistic pattern (a special union in poetry), but it has so little bite that its contents are necessarily mush. Even a piece of prose about discovering the joys of swearing manages to have a mulchy centre.
Still, there are interesting things in this show. The knowledge that James Simpson discovered chloroform by simply trying out a load of drugs with his mates is an interesting insight into the Victorian scientific method. James Hutton, the ‘father of modern geology’ and one of the first people to suggest that the Earth might perhaps be older than the number of ‘begats’ in the Bible, is an inspiration to us all. Butlin has chosen important subjects and this should be recognised.I’m probably horribly damaged by exposure to the internet and its resident horrors, but here there is too much foot-tappery and jollying along for there to be any really effective exploration of an interesting subject.