Review: The Most Amazing Planet in the Universe7 February 2019
I love the idea of space. The thought of the countless other worlds just (or not so just) beyond our own has always been a source of inspiration for me. Despite this, I have no desire to ever venture out to visit space myself (and not just because I am definitely not fit enough, and too easily nauseous to become an astronaut). Space themed talks are the closest I’m ever going to get to exploring the universe. How perfect for me then that in his show Dr Phil Dooley, science writer, physicist, entertainer, pianist and singer, promises to “take you on a trip around the cosmos and reveal the surprising things that make our world special”, all without having to leave the comfort and cool ambiance of the Butterfly Club.
Part concert, part science lecture, Dr Phil used a variety of stories, videos, parody songs and even a picture book to provide the audience with a crash course on the universe and our planet’s rather unique position within it. The highlight for me was a touching tribute to the many moons of our solar system paired with Debussy’s Moonlight on piano.
Dr Phil should be applauded for his efforts to make physics, an oft-maligned science topic, understandable and interesting by putting it into the context of our amazing universe. He even used a couple of simple experiments to demonstrate physical concepts, like the fun high school physics teacher I wish I had. I did, however, feel that a few of his comments bordered on reinforcing the false dichotomy of science vs arts and religion, which I don’t think helps bridge the gap between the public and science. It should not be science against the world, but science as just one, albeit extremely important, way of explaining it.
While I would have liked a stronger cohesive thread to tie together the many parts of the performance, what did shine clearly throughout was Dr Phil’s strong passion for science and science communication. An energetic presence on stage, he was able to engage his audience and even managed to get a lot of us singing along with his songs. If you’re anything like me, as Dr Phil guides you from the very large – the sheer scale of a universe in which the earth represents the tiniest of specks – to the very small – the elements that make up all of it – expect that feeling that Tim Minchin at the beginning of his song Not Perfect calls “that feeling I think we all get sometimes where you feel like you’re the smallest doll in a babushka doll.” If you’re not so science-y but would like an introduction to the forces that shape the universe, particularly the planet, we live in, this show is for you