Icarus was a precocious boy who flew too close to the sun; a thing so powerful that it would consume even the most brilliant inventor. In true noughties style Dr Brian Greene (a man far too charming to be a scientist) has updated this classic Greek tale and turned our Icarus into a space traveling boy who dreams of exploring something even more dangerous than the burning star at the centre of our universe; a black hole.
In a collaboration to wet even the most classically challenged fool (aka yours truly) Icarus at the Edge of Time combines a myriad of juicy talent. Greene’s book has been turned into a multi-media extravaganza with a Philip Glass score, visuals by film-makers Al+Al and here performed by the incandescent London Philharmonic conducted by Marin Alsop with David Morrissey as narrator. It is a star studded event brought to the Southbank Centre to mark the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society.
It’s always nice to be taken to something; usually it’s me dragging friends by their hair to performances. This time I was the one being, if not dragged, then definitely taken by my usually reticent brother. And I’m so glad he did. Yes Greene falls too much in love with the positive potential of scientific discovery and the ending isn’t what it should be (this Icarus doesn’t perish, either in icy black silence or in fiery glory) but the mixture of science and art at play here is a potent one.
Introduced with an eloquence that would shame most professional speakers (and for all I know he is one) Greene starts by giving us a lesson in Einstein’s theory of relativity. And you know what, not since Mark Steele put Jo Brand on a trampoline has it been so elegantly and simply explained to me. Greene seems to think they teach this theory of bending time and space at primary school, but I must have been absent that lesson because this is a revelation to me.
What follows is an amalgamation of narrative, music and film collage that, if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Glass’ other film collaboration Koyaanisqatsi, still hits a pretty poignant holistic note.
The idea of mixing science and art is not a new one, although it’s still not seen as a natural marriage. It seems to me like a much more instinctive cohabitation than with sport, the discipline which the Powers That Be have declared us to be bedfellows with. It is often an unhappy union.
However over recent years and in great scientific tradition we seem to be moving forward. Institutes such as The Wellcome Trust Galleries and prominent practitioners such as Mick Gordon and Theatre de Complicite, to name but a few, are regularly combining both to create hybrid works of scientific (mathematic) and artistic discovery. Icarus certainly did so beautifully, asking practical and philosophical questions that were awesome both spiritually and empirically.
The wonderful institute Theatre Science’s cheerfully slogan says it all ‘Illuminating science and inspiring new theatre’; this is a burgeoning relationship that we should all be encouraging.