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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Friday, September 19, 2008

One Giant Leap

© Mark Fisher - published in The Guardian

One Giant Leap
Caol Community Centre, Fort William
4 out of 5

Professor Michael Reiss should have bided his time. Instead of causing all that hullabaloo over creationism in science lessons, the Royal Society's now ex-director of education should simply have prescribed One Giant Leap for every school in the land. Though the head-spinning production by Wee Stories and the National Theatre of Scotland does not address creationism head on, in its humanist inquiry into 2,500 years of scientific thinking about space, it persuasively argues that the greatest enemy of knowledge is foundationless religious dogma.

The giant leap of the title is a reference to the small step taken by Neil Armstrong nearly 40 years ago when he set foot upon the moon. But the giant leaps that most interest performer Iain Johnstone are those taken by history's freethinkers, the people who upturned religious and scientific orthodoxy to present a new vision of our place in the cosmos.

The hero of his story is Aristarchus of Samos, the ancient Greek astronomer who suggested the Earth spins on its axis and revolves around the sun. It was an idea that remained at best forgotten, at worst heretical, for 1,700 years, until Copernicus thought he'd give it another spin. Those ideas inspired Giordano Bruno, a rebel Dominican friar, who was burned at the stake for his ungodly beliefs only 400 years ago. There is real anger in Johnstone's performance as he describes the church's stranglehold on knowledge, while back projections make an ironic link between the flames that destroyed Bruno to the burn that propelled Apollo 11.

As if mocking themselves for their own lecture-room earnestness, Johnstone and his collaborators Andy Cannon and David Trouton present the show before a school blackboard next to a library of forbidding books. It is a classroom of the imagination, however, one in which the chalk stars magically move across the black emptiness of space and in which a teacher describes the size of the solar system in terms of an unfurling toilet roll.

Wee Stories has produced more joyful shows, and some of Johnstone's jokes are tentative. But any play that requires the audience to join in a plainsong chant about the Earth being at the centre of the universe gets my vote. As with the company's The Emperor's New Kilt earlier this year, the inspirational message is that sceptical inquiry is more wondrous than blind faith.

© Mark Fisher, 2008

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