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Review: The Element in the Room

Adelaide Fringe

Two things are clear from the opening moments of this show. First, John Hinton (frocked up as pioneering Polish chemist and physicist Marie Curie) is seriously talented. ★★★★★

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And second, this history lesson is going to be 100 per cent more fun than any we had in school.

The Element in the Room: A Radioactive Musical Comedy About the Death and Life of Marie Curie is the third work in Tangram Theatre Company’s “scientrilogy” of plays about famous scientists.

In previous seasons at Holden Street, director Daniel Goldman, Hinton and musician Jo Eagle presented Albert Einstein: Relatively Speaking and their celebration of Charles Darwin – The Origin of the Species.

Haven’t seen the previous shows? Doesn’t matter. Don’t think you need to hear songs about science? Think again.

The combination of Hinton’s sharp comic timing, vocal skills and compelling stage presence is impossible to resist. With Pierre (Eagle) providing accompaniment on accordion, Marie takes us on a journey through a series of scientific discoveries and the story of her incredible achievements.

There are many meta-theatrical moments as Hinton jumps in and out of the key role to juggle (superbly) a collection of characters central to Marie’s story. With just a ball of string and some information cards, our hostess introduces the periodic table and the radioactive elements, and helps the audience untangle the difference between alpha and beta decay in a simple but clever game.

It’s not all fun and frolic. There are several genuinely poignant moments which add depth and drive home just how significant Curie’s work has been. The Nobel Prize winner was an inspiration to a generation of women but, despite her genius, the francs didn’t roll into the bank.

Curie’s morals meant she refused to capitalise on her work, gifting it to the world instead. Without her, we might never have had the benefits of X-rays or radiotherapy.

While radium may (or may not) have been the cause of the aplastic anaemia that ended her life, there’s no doubt it was responsible for many other hideous deaths before its dangerous properties were fully understood.

This “musical-comedy-road-movie” proves that an appreciation of science is vital for everyone. Don’t live a half-life … get a ticket.

Five stars

The Element in the Room is being presented at Holden Street Theatres (The Arch) until March 12

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