Ever seen a play about quantum physics and crumpets? I hadn’t either. But that’s exactly what Qrumpet is, a riff on the quantum tunnelling theory that if you throw an object at a wall a sufficiently large number of times, eventually the object will pass through the wall. You can choose any object – even a Warburton’s crumpet – but will it actually happen? This play from ANTS Theatre is the machine built to find out.
But how often does a crumpet hit a wall? In the foyer pre-show, my mate suggests it’s more likely for a drumstick to pass through a drum – surely a more frequent occurrence? With some back-of-the-napkin maths and some questionable assumptions we try to work out how many times a drum is hit per day (for the record, we reckon it’s 126 million times). Then the show bell rings and our futile thought experiment is over.
We arrive in a different experiment: one meticulously set up to deliver, toast, butter, weigh and ultimately throw crumpets. It’s bizarre. Each actor performs their assigned task with a serious intensity, the crumpet is thrown at the wall and… we wait. All eyes turn expectantly to the door. Eventually a woman walks in, shuffles to the far end of the stage, turns to the expectant team and says “No”. No quantum tunnelling this time guys. A chuckle passes through the audience.
Unperturbed, we go again. Each movement is precisely identical, each actor carrying out exactly the same task. They repeat the experiment, hoping for a different result; we wait, hopefully. Shuffle. “No”. The experiment repeats. It’s clear from this early period that the play is classic absurdism. The perfectly repeated actions, the pointlessness of it all shining a light on the pointlessness of human endeavour. And yet, we do it anyway – again and again.
Then things start to get weird(er). The magic source of crumpets starts to present unexpected items: a pack of butter, a pair of tongs. The actors look to each other in silent bemusement clearly wondering whether they should keep going? Asking each other with an upturned eyebrow: should I butter the butter? Should I toast the tongs? Each time the actions get a little weirder, and increasingly amusing, although I did feel the reactions could have been bigger, more clown-like, to drive this sense of absurdism further.
The play descends further and further into madness, the well-developed structure of the piece falling apart. Toying with the sense of expectation we had for the repetitions of earlier sequences, it’s engaging to see how the actors react as the structure falters. It’s a real credit to the way this play has been created that the intention and purpose shines clearly through all the confusion.
Qrumpet draws deeply from the ideas of 20th-century absurdism – at times feeling like an Ionesco for the modern day – and applies them to the weirdest scientific theories of our time. It doesn’t reach any kind of meaningful answer about those theories, but it does highlight how absurd they are. In doing so it forces us to look at the nihilism of human existence, but focuses our attention on really how funny it is. At the end of the play, I open my phone and see the figure 126 million on my calculator. Pointless as it is, it still draws a rye smile – isn’t that what life’s about?
Devised and performed by: Andy Owen Cook, Diana Valleverdú I Cabrera, Eva H. Lee, Inés Collado, Lu Curtis, Paul Hernes Barnes, Mengqiu Xu, Mischa Jones
Produced by: ANTS Theatre and Belisa Branças
Qrumpet has completed its run at Camden People’s Theatre. It will be playing at Brighton Fringe in May, and Didcot and CHeltenham in June. Check Ants Theatre’s website here for further information and dates.