The Periodic Fable

Science and panto combine in this energetic family romp that means well, but ultimately fails to stick together as a whole.

As a science show the experiments are pretty good, but they feel very out of place.

Two Glaswegian scientists, Dr Karen, also known as Big Pal, and Dr Erin, who has some amusing anger-management issues, are two scientists with spectacular lab coats, who are preparing for the big science conference. However, they are transported to a new dimension by their supervisor during a botched attempt to steal their research - Panto Land. The show follows their adventures through Panto Land, learning about science as they go, and their attempts to get home in time for the conference, dealing with getting lost, dangerous wildlife, riddles and misogyny along the way.

The show has some really good moments and some of the science is genuinely impressive. The tricks with the Van Der Graff generator were particularly great. There is a nice range of sciences fitted in: there’s bits of psychology, chemistry, physics, ecology, astronomy, and biology resulting in a very impressive prop jellyfish. Throughout the show there is a selection of projection that is either hilariously dated or intentionally retro, which provides the setting and joins in with the songs.

Generally the roles are as one dimensional as you expect from a panto. The supervisor makes the most of his villainous role, spouting ridiculous aspersions about women, and he had lots of material to improvise with after Tim Hunt’s recent comments. The show really does introduce all the children to academic competitiveness and the Matilda Effect. I found this particularly funny but the details of the plot go over the children’s heads, simply boiling down to a boy vs. girl dynamic for the children in the audience. The moments of audience interaction were well thought through and interweaving audience members into the show worked well.

However, the show is rife with problems and the story is bonkers. In a show purporting to be full of real science, it is never made clear that the crossing into another dimension via a big red button is not real science, which is a bit dangerous considering the young audience. It runs the risk of becoming mixed in with the the real science onstage. The songs are a bit dull, and you cannot really hear them so they don’t get the audience going. The choreography need some work: the moves are repetitive and not very exciting. The characters are also not very interesting so you don’t really mind what happens to them and the cardboard set looked like it might break at any moment.

The bits of the performance that were pantomime in style needed some work, and an injection of energy. The science sections worked reasonably well alone, but logistically the science and the panto storyline felt a bit cobbled together and didn’t sit well as one entity. This hashing together feels clumsy, even considering the concessions one would normally make for a children's pantomime. Generally as a piece of theatre, the production needs a rewrite; as a science show the experiments are pretty good, but they feel very out of place.

I really wanted to love this show as someone who really enjoys panto and as a science student, but I would only recommend it if your kids really want to see scientific experiments, and don’t mind sitting through the dull characters to get them.

Reviews by M Johnson

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The Blurb

Science and panto collide in a sparkling show for young and old! Enter the little known dimension of Panto Land, where famous panto characters are living happily ever after – until a spaceship crash-lands in the forest... From astro-lyricists to zoo-lol-ogists, from genetically modified beanstalks to trips through the cosmos, The Periodic Fable brings together scientists, comedians, writers, actors and audience for a truly collaborative panto-science project! It’s fun, educational, unconventional and innovative. A high-energy mix of entertainment and enlightenment (and songs) brought to you by Dr Zara Gladman and comedian Bruce Morton. Glasgow Science Festival supported.