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The Enlightenment Cafe, Old Vic Tunnels

Produced by LAStheatre

Pros: Great science and a great cast make for an enjoyable evening.

Cons: Drunken, unfunny hecklers…who needs them?

Our Verdict: Definitely worth doing if you’re a science enthusiast or just love a night doing something out of the ordinary.

Remember to listen to our blogcast interview with LAStheatre’s Barra Collins and Andy Franzkowiak.

The Enlightenment Cafe from LAStheatre

It was a fairly average day in the week for me yesterday. But then I went underground to The Enlightenment Cafe and the evening became extraordinary.

LAStheatre have transformed the Old Vic Tunnels into a cavern of mystery and mayhem for audience members to explore at their will. The cast lead audience around encouraging people to attend various classes, including a session in Victorian etiquette. Setting it all strictly in the Victorian era gives more guidance to the evening and also helps to place us in a sense of ‘other’.

I learnt something about Euclid (thanks to my eager maths-fanatical fellow blogger who asked for a maths lesson) and something else about ‘mad balls’ from a psychiatrist and somewhere in between there was also a vampirologist…

If you think this is going to be a wishy-washy attempt at merging some crowd pleasing bit of ‘science’ with performance, I’m happy to say that you would be wrong. These guys aren’t messing around, there are real scientists at work here and I think that’s what sets this apart from other similar endeavours. Avoiding the easy gimmicks, LAStheatre have opted instead to involve real scientists from exciting fields of study – just say the words ‘fire and explosions scientist’ to people and watch their faces, appropriately, ‘light up’! Not all of it works perfectly every time, but that’s to be expected depending on the people you just happen to be in the same room with.

For me one of the genuine strengths of the evening, on a slightly serious note, was the speed debating. How often do you get to voice your opinions about important issues such as whether vegetarians should be allowed to continue their diet or not?! More importantly you get to listen to someone else’s random rants. We’ve all got something to say and this session is oddly therapeutic!

The main ‘presentation’ of the evening is hosted by an impressive name in science radio, Quentin Cooper who leads the audience through an interesting round of ‘did you know?’ style facts from each scientist on the stage, skillfully navigating his way around the inevitable ‘comedic’ hecklers (leave the comedy to the acts please). This was preceded by a warm up act by Helen Keen, which went on a tad too long for me and some crafty shadow puppetry, which always wins me over. Sadly we couldn’t stay for the musicians, but I like the idea of winding down (or up I suppose!) the evening with bands.

This is definitely a weekend activity as there is too much to try and squeeze into a couple of hours, which is probably why the team behind it have chosen the long weekend to run it over. I think the best thing to do is to get there on time, get stuck in straightaway and allow yourself time to venture into all the alcoves of mystery… it’s only going to happen once, so you might as well try and see it all!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

The Enlightenment Cafe runs at the Old Vic Tunnels until 3rd June 2012.
Book online at http://www.lastheatre.com/the-enlightenment-cafe/

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