Science is full of background stories that rarely are discussed. There are continuing feuds over the first innovators, questions around which discoveries are credited to whom, and cult-like personal fan groups. Atlas, performed by the Mermaids from St Andrews, brings out one such tale of intrigue and mystery – a story which led to Newton’s ground-breaking theory of gravitation.
The year is 1684, and the scientific community is churning out momentous discoveries. It is in this clime that Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren and Edmund Halley meet and discuss their work, especially the proof of Kepler’s planetary theories. Halley and Hooke wager that the community is very close to proving them; Hooke claims that he already has. Enter Isaac Newton, with his vehement hatred for London and his odd but brilliant mannerisms; what follows is a complete spat between him and Hooke, who labels Newton a thief and charlatan. As the news gets to the Royal Society, we get the answer to the question, "How much can a wager cost?"
All the actors are fantastic. In particular Eleanor Burke as Hooke delivered a standout performance as an antagonist; with her gait and stance, she perfectly portrayed arrogance, ego, anger and despair. The standoffs between Hooke and Newton, who Hooke alleges "stole the epitaph of my grave" are tense and exciting.
I was also impressed by the attention to detail in the accuracy of formulae written up on the chalk boards during the show. The elements of human drama, and the role of sheer chance in the series of events that led to one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time, are brought out well in the scene shifts and poetic interludes.
The use of the space wasn’t ideal, though. As in many venues, the audience sit on three sides of the stage, yet you'll only get the best of the action if you're facing straight on; more work's needed on performing to the whole of the room. And if you're not near the front you'll miss out on all the chalk-board writing, because it's done on the floor.
If you liked physics at school, you will thoroughly enjoy this production. And if you didn’t, you'll enjoy it in any case, because this is science presented in much more human way – with real people and their very real egos at a time of breathtaking intellectual progress in the Western world. Plus, the tickets are inexpensive and the location is central. There's really no reason to miss this one!