Cosmic Shambles is the name that Robin Ince gives to his show, currently touring Australia and New Zealand, in which he gathers together scientists, comedians, and musicians, both local and imported, and puts on a collection of stories and demonstrations. Each performer gets a slot of around 15 minutes, and other than that, it’s anything goes, really.
We met up in Courtenay Place at the Bangalore Polo Club for some dinner beforehand. The food was fairly standard pub grub, washed down with a beer or cocktail.
The show started at 7:00pm, as there’s quite a lot to get through. At the beginning there’s a short film starring the puppets of Brian Cox and Robin Ince discussing science things. Brian Cox is far too famous and busy doing television in the UK to come on tour, so this was a substitute for that. Brian and Robin go way back, though, having presented The Infinite Monkey Cage since 2009. The rest of the cast were:
Robin Ince (puppet)
Brian Cox (puppet)
Robin Ince – comedian/mc
Josie Long – comedian
Helen Czerski – bubble scientist
Lucie Green – solar scientist
Matt Parker – mathematician
Nation – music
Michelle Dickinson – nanotechnologist
Siouxsie Wiles – microbiologist
James Nokise – comedian
Shaun Hendy – physicist
Matt Stellingwerf – comedian
Jon Toogood – music
After an introduction from Robin, he introduced the first live guest, Josie Long, who undertook the first experiment of the night. This was based around “what do ghosts eat? Spook-etti”, a joke from a Christmas cracker. This involved opening two tins of spaghetti, leaving one for the ghost, and Robin Ince eating the other (cold, natch), whilst leaving the third unopened as a control. This proved absolutely nothing, but was much funnier than described here.
After that, each act came on individually, and did their bit. Matt Parker, a mad Australian mathematician, demonstrated how to calculate pi with pies in several different ways, and also explained how pi, and indeed pie, gets into everything. The main event was using a pi-endulum to calculate pi with a little help from an audience member.
Siouxsie Wiles gave a convincing, and quite frightening, demonstration of how we’re all going to die, as antibiotics fail to overcome bacteria. The end is nigh. You heard it here secondhand.
At the end of the first half, local band Nation gave us some tunes. They seemed to be channelling the Eighties in a Go West, Love And Money style…all they needed was a sax to complete the picture.
The second half included a very interesting discussion of bubbles from Helen Czerki, including how penguins use them to avoid leopard seals and get out of the water. Nanotechnologist Michelle Dickinson gave a live demonstration of the effect of cold on various materials, and how this led to the space shuttle Challenger exploding 73 seconds after launching, in 1986. Using liquid nitrogen to cool down metals, and showing scant regard for elf-and-safety along the way, she showed how the metal reacted at low temperatures.