Unapologetically geeky and corny, Festival of the Spoken Nerd: Just For Graphs brought their unique brand of irreverent comic science to The Lowry last weekend.
Comedy songwriter Helen Arney, science presenter Steve Mould, and mathematician & stand-up comic Matt Parker showcased their almost childlike excitement for maths and science to the packed-out theatre and attempted to transfer that into everyone present, whatever their level of expertise.
Considering the reaction to some of the more niche references, you could sense that the majority of the audience were well-versed in the topics covered, but at no point did the content become too complex for those in the audience who had come with only the science knowledge school had given them.
As the subtitle suggests, the show revolved almost solely around graphs—or charts, plots and diagrams to be precise. Managing to fill a two-hour show with variations on such a narrow theme takes some skill, but they managed to keep it inventive.
It is a natural sticking point to all those who try to fuse science and comedy that you risk sacrificing accuracy and complexity for humour, or vice versa, either disappointing the most knowledgeable among the audience or confusing the least knowledgeable.
Arney, Mould and Parker struck almost the right balance, if erring on the side of appealing to the novices—which is understandable. The second half was head and shoulders above the first, including a jaw-droppingly quick formulation of a 10×10 magic square using a number randomly picked from the audience, and a brilliant adaptation of Wicked’s Defying Gravity on the subject of Albert Einstein.
The stars of the show were not the hosts, however, but the tech. Not the modern, animation-filled PowerPoint projected behind them as they talked, but the antique equipment rolled out. The first was a reconstituted fax machine, to which audience-members could send messages or pictures using free smartphone apps.
The second was a slide projector that predated even the overhead projectors of my childhood, used in an almost slapstick routine between the 21st century projector and the 20th century one. Both of these old and new tech interplays were some of the best-received parts of the entire show, both inventive and funny.
Festival of the Spoken Nerd: Just For Graphs continues to tour the country until the 7th of December, calling in at Cambridge (13th of November), Southampton (15th of November), Glasgow (19th of November), Birmingham (21st of November) and London (7th of December). Check their full list of tour dates here.
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