Energetic pop music fills Eden Court’s Empire Theatre, punctuated by excited shouts from a predominantly young audience and their parents. If the theatre is not full you wouldn’t know it, based on the wall of noise which greets the two Ministry of Science performers and the TV-style voiceover (yes, it really is the X-Factor’s Peter Dixon!). It’s a dramatic start with choir music, dancing spotlights bouncing through the audience and two fire pillars glittering like giant sparklers. What child could fail to be impressed?
Performers Andy and Vicky are big on audience participation! This is a family show, and while the younger members participate enthusiastically, teenagers and adults shift uncomfortably in their seats as hands raising, volunteering, dancing, pedalling and shouting loudly are not only tolerated but encouraged at every turn. The contrast between accessible experiments (the physically impressive stuff) and imparting of scientific wisdom (telling the audience about inventors, chemical components, atoms and electrons and energies etc) sits a little uneasily, but while young viewers may not have taken in every word, they certainly were not bored. And how could you be bored when rockets are fired and liquid nitrogen rolls towards you like a tsunami, when flowers are frozen in seconds and explosions and bangs lead up to the moment where boiling water is poured on 15 litres of liquid nitrogen, resulting in in a sight and sound which left even adults open-mouthed?
As there are only two performers, the voiceover and screen have to take over from time to time, but disruption is minimal – it’s a slickly scripted and tightly planned show.
Gadgets like a home-made hovercraft, a pedal-blender, a plasma-ball and a Van de Graaff allow plenty of scope audience participation, and for the most part, the slapstick-style comedy chemistry between the performers works, with deliberately bad science puns. However, music is possibly over-used as a sound effect throughout: even the teaching of science concepts is accompanied by thumping drum beats.
Is it for everyone? Maybe not, although even cynics would be fascinated by parts of the show.
Is it energetic, fast-paced and educational? Without a doubt.
Is it popular with its target audience? Hell, yeah.