Atlas

Mermaids: The University of St Andrews Performing Arts Fund

theSpace on North Bridge

From 04 August 2017 to 19 August 2017

Rating: ****

Review by Graeme Strachan

When a wager is struck between Edmund Halley and Robert Hooke, two of the leading natural philosophers of their age, it sets off a series of events which leads to one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time.

The playful bet, suggested by fellow friend Christopher Wren, leads Halley to approach the disgraced and ostracised mathematician Isaac Newton, whose involvement infuriates Hooke and whose later discovery of the principles of gravitation drives a wedge between the friends and threatens the entire balance of the scientific community.

It's intriguing to see a story such as Atlas told so deftly with a script and pacing that manages to make clear enough the complex principles of physics and mathematics involved without baffling the audience and yet still never seeming to pander or oversimplify.

Meanwhile, the human drama involved never feels overplayed, and although the play clearly takes the dimmest view possible of Hooke, who is cast as a tragically conceited and insecure braggard, the resulting emotions between the trio of friends and the resultant introduction of Newton into their lives and into the Royal Society causes them to react in ways all too human and unscientific.

It's a breath of fresh air to a Fringe that too often relies on shock or spectacle, rather than good old fashioned solid writing and committed performance.