There are very few places on Earth where you can learn a Polynesian navigation chant, play a video game by applauding and listen to Public Service Broadcasting in the same place. Space Shambles, which played at the Royal Albert Hall last week, is one of them.
Presented as part of the Hall’s first Festival of Science, the show is an offshoot of Cosmic Shambles, brainchild of comedian Robin Ince and world’s calmest man Commander Chris Hardwick, The show runs three hours, throws people on stage every 10 minutes or so with gleeful abandon and is the funniest night of education we’ve seen in a very long time. Ince and Hadfield compered and did so with perfectly meshing opposite styles. Ince is fast, funny, mildly disheveled and endlessly enthusiastic. Hadfield, with the glacial calm of a shuttle pilot, is kind, measured and civil.
All photos from Royal Albert Hall
Between them they provided the North and South for a project that gloried in its uniqueness from start to finish and packed the stage with everyone from a Polynesian elder to Apollo pilot Rusty Schweickart. Schchweickart took part in one of the weirdest, best moments of the night too working with Seb Lee-Delisle. Seb, scientist, professional laser wrangler and classic arcade game Lunar Lander fan, had a dream; to recreate the old school Lunar Lander game using lasers. At the Royal Albert Hall.
And have an Apollo astronaut play it.
And land it.
Which Rusty did.
Even better, the crowd then got to play too, with the lander powered by the volume of applause! That went…less well. But there’s no shame in being out flown by an Apollo astronaut and the whole thing was a deeply weird but lovely experience. Science Shambles ended up having about ten of those across it’s three hour run, ranging from Professor Monica Grady’s behind the scenes insight into the terrors of landing on a comic (MUCH funnier than you might think) through to Stewart Lee’s tonally entirely different but cheerfully disgruntled refusal to be impressed by astronauts or space. Or anything.
Along the way there were stop offs at the final resting place of Skylab (And the littering fine it incurred) as well as Jim Al-Khalili’s remarkably chirpy talk about the beginning and the end of the universe and Festival of the Spoken Nerd. FOTSN are mathematician/comedians and they are extraordinary. How extraordinary? Calculating pi using a pie on a strong or, as they called it, a Pi-endulum live on stage.
From Polynesian navigation chants to a shuttle commander covering David Bowie, from She Makes War and Grace Petrie’s music to Reece Shearsmith’s electrifying reading of Pale Blue Dot, Space Shambles had something for everyone. Endlessly enthusiastic, cheerfully ramshackle and completely inspiring it was an amazing night in amazing company. You’ll never look at pi, or pies, the same way again.