The Element in the Room: A Radioactive Musical Comedy about the Death and Life of Marie Curie

I think I’ve found my new favourite musical, thanks to Tangram Theatre and their amazing piece on one of the 20th century's most important scientists. John Hinton gives an incredibly impressive performance like none I've seen before, and has the audience singing along about the wonders of radium whilst acknowledging the potential damage it can do. It's like if Horrible Histories produced a lecture series and I can't stop singing its praises.

I feel like my words aren't going to be able to do this enough justice. Just go to Pleasance courtyard now and get your tickets and you'll see how indescribably brilliant it is.

The musical is set in 1921, the year that Curie receives crowd funding to travel to America and collect radium to further her work. The stage is completely bare, leaving Hinton to expertly map out every scene in detail. Accompanied by Jo Eagle on accordion as Marie's late husband Pierre Curie, the opening number is injected with some fourth-wall breaking and allows Hinton to break character later and relate the history and science behind Curie's work which otherwise would feel bizarre coming from the heroine herself.

The dual role in this piece is absolutely masterful. Hinton flawlessly switches between characters, especially during a musical number in which Irene Curie gives a lecture on the etymology and scientific development of the atom. At no point is the science dumbed down either. Rather than patronising the audience or summarising in a way which isn't easy to comprehend, Hinton comes out of character to demonstrate how radium is broken down. This interactive segment goes down superbly, with the audience completely on board.

Packed with carefully researched scientific content, the show also tells a story with excellent tension. The dramatic irony is palpable when we see factory girls licking their paintbrushes to paint on glow in the dark radium watches, and the consequences of radiation poisoning are dealt with respect and care. Hinton plays Curie in mourning with subtlety, talking to Pierre as she finds solace in her work. This relationship is addressed in the heartbreaking number Half Life, showcasing Eagle's singing talents which are on a par with her excellent accordion skills. The show ends on a bittersweet note and will have you leaving with a big, dopey, science-induced grin on your face.

I feel like my words aren't going to be able to do this enough justice. Just go to Pleasance courtyard now and get your tickets and you'll see how indescribably brilliant it is. I've been recommending this show to anyone and everyone since I left the theatre yesterday afternoon. It's clever, heartfelt and it’s made me the most excited I've been about science in years.

Reviews by Louise Jones

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★★★★
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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Marie Curie lived an extraordinary life, and made incredible scientific discoveries in the face of unbelievable odds.This is her story, replete with breathtaking breakthroughs and seriously silly songs. Tangram's internationally acclaimed peer-reviewed musical comedies about Darwin and Einstein have delighted Edinburgh audiences. This brand new show completes their award-winning Scientrilogy. Praise for previous shows: 'John Hinton is an absolute joy... [he] could get anyone interested in science' **** (TheatreGuide.com.au). 'Gloriously fun and accessible' (ThreeWeeks). ***** ‘Something close to brilliance’ ***** (Times). www.tangramtheatre.co.uk