Today is Nobel Prize winner, Sir Alexander Fleming’s birthday and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer continues to show the life story of the father of the atomic bomb in cinemas, so it seems like the perfect time to visit Einstein and the formation of his Theory of General Relativity. Written and performed by Jack Fry, Einstein! Celebrating 100 Years of General Relativity, is a unique one-man show, combining scientific theory, irreverent humour, and poignant reflections on the life of everyone’s favourite genius.
The show’s director, Tom Blomquist opens the play with a projection of a graveyard and a soundtrack of tinkling bells, rattling chains, and howling winds, reminiscent of the appearance of Jacob Marley in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This creates the feeling that what we will see is a story of redemption, making the exploration of the mistakes Einstein makes, particularly with his family, all the more moving. The projected scenery continues to play an important role throughout the piece, with detailed backgrounds for some scenes and diagrammatic illustrations of Einstein’s theories which add context to the monologue. Reappearance of the gravestones at moments of remorse add a touch of fear over the inevitable and permanent regret associated with it being too late to fix things.
Fry’s monologue begins with a rant over the merchandise being produced today featuring Einstein’s likeness and how Albert is more remembered for his wild hair and allegedly bad maths, than the massive impact he had on the science of both his day and ours. His disdain for today’s world nicely balances with his disgust over the background of the First World War and the rife antisemitism he, and his work, were subjected to.
The piece is full of wry humour, with some very funny elements, including a fourth wall breaking reflection over playing all parts in the play single-handedly. Fry’s alteration of body language and accent for different characters is excellent and assistant director, Peggy O’Neal’s vocal coaching has clearly been utilised fully to ensure each character has their own voice. Use of lighting during character changes emphasise the alterations and add a feeling of magical transformation.
The stream is a recording of the stage show being performed live and there are some issues with the sound, with the audience laughter and reactions being significantly louder than Fry’s speech and the show’s sound effects. This is unfortunate and could be improved with some careful editing of the video. There are also a couple of moments where the recording is plunged into darkness, which seems likely to be due more to the positioning of the cameras, rather than actual issues with the lighting used on stage during the recording.
The sound effects used are very good, with the war literally exploding into Einstein’s life and the nagging tone of his wife, Mileva (Alexandra Kovas) adding a sense of balance to their infamously rocky marriage. The exploration of Einstein’s relationship with his family allows Fry to tenderly explore elements of regret in Einstein’s life while also investigating the burden of genius and how seeing the world differently to everyone else can cause feelings of shame and awkwardness.
Fry’s performance is brilliant, with fantastic illustrations of increasing stress and pressure on Einstein’s journey towards being awarded a Nobel against the background of World War One and familial breakdown. The use of sets and props together with mime add depth to the one-man performance.
Deliberately anachronistic elements including use of techniques seen on reality TV and references to technology used today, add a nice comedic touch, and increase the accessibility of the scientific elements of the performance. The demonstration of one of Einstein’s thought experiments as actually affecting the physical environment is hilarious and very original.
Einstein! – Celebrating 100 Years of General Relativity is a unique look into a life which everyone thinks they know. Einstein is eminently recognisable, and his equation E = mc2 is something everyone can recite, if not explain. This show, however, is about Einstein as a younger man, when his marriage was falling to pieces, his colleagues were trying to steal his work, and his pacifist attitudes and Jewish heritage made him a target for scorn and hatred. Very funny, educational, and surprisingly emotional, this is a great piece of theatre which looks at a man whose work is still impacting how we live today.
Einstein! – Celebrating 100 Years of General Relativity is being streamed by Edinburgh Fringe until 28 August 2023. Tickets are available here https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/einstein-celebrating-100-years-of-general-relativity
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 6th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: