Despite containing flaming methane bubbles, flowers frozen solid by liquid nitrogen and lights powered by plasma balls, Martin Lamb calls The Energy Show theatre rather than science.
The show’s director and co–writer admits there is a thin line separating science and theatre and the best theatre directors should be clued up on science.
He explains: “For centuries theatre writers and directors have been trying to harness technology to find new and exciting ways to tell stories by improving special effects or lighting the stage with more range and subtlety or producing an increasingly immersive experience.
“Theatre and science are often working together hand in hand to entertain people.”
The Energy Show, produced by Science Museum Live and about to start a national tour, also features the hair–raising Van der Graaff generator and hydrogen–filled rockets fired into the audience. The touring show follows two futuristic science students racing against time to prove their knowledge of energy.
Their virtual lab–assistant, i–nstein, created by Nina Dunn, whose has made video and projections for Glyndebourne and the National Theatre, helps the duo as they tackle a steampunk–style workshop full of gadgets and chemicals.
“Because you’re in a big space, you can blow things up on a bigger scale than you could demonstrate in a classroom or school hall,” adds Lamb.
“Live theatre is great because you are involved in a shared experience – so for this show, the sense of anticipation of being among 500 people waiting for something to explode takes the excitement to another level.”
Lamb, who has created shows for galleries, museums and historic buildings including the V&A, Tate Britain, the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, is also an opera singer.
He’s appeared on stage with English National Opera, Scottish Opera and in the Read Not Dead programme at Shakespeare’s Globe.
He sees the connections between singing arias and building experiments.
“In a funny way the experiments are a bit like the big numbers in a musical: they’re impressive to look at, they’re quite technical and when they go right they get lots of applause and cheers.”
Lamb has had to learn the science behind energy to put the 90–minute show together – mirroring the journey of his protagonists, Annabella and Phil.
“Anyone with a natural curiosity for basic questions about the world around us will get something from it – from what happens when we eat a biscuit to why can we get a static shock from a doorknob – and will learn something new and enjoy doing so.
“We deal with some trickier questions too – what’s the difference between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion – but in a way which keeps people engaged and entertained.”
Anthony Richards, manager of the Science Museum’s Learning Programmes, devised all the experiments for The Energy Show.
He says by swapping traditional experiments and demonstrations for a theatrical narrative there is more drama.
“It’s much more theatrical and much more dramatic that the presenter–style Outreach shows. I must say it’s much funnier and full of surprises.”