Total Eclipse of Descartes Tour
Rob Newman at the Laughter House
15th February 2018
The last time I was down in this room it was a full-on pub, with blasting rock music, barrels for tables and a smoky fug that meant your sight was limited to a square foot. Now it’s the Laughter House and Rob Newman is performing his one-man show called the Total Eclipse of Descartes, in which he ranges through the philosophical and scientific world, and claims Greek heritage!
The place is friendly, but efficient, and with the seats so close together and the wooden beams so low, there is an immediate intimacy. My only concern is for the performer’s head.
There’s always something new and enlightening from Newman. I followed his BBC Radio series the Entirely Accurate Encyclopaedia of Evolution, about the survival of the unfittest, his History of Oil, about colonialism and empire, and From the Caliban to Taliban, 500 years of Humanitarian Intervention. Now, here he is debunking scientific tenets that have laid the basis for most of the ‘Right Wing’ policies since…well, he goes back further than Pythagoras.
His style mixes the political, historical and personal with a delivery that highlights the absurdity of life, and especially the life that has the power in our society. He takes complex ideas and theories, builds up a human tale around them and reduces all this to a level that the novice can understand; all in a humorous way that leaves you wondering how he could possibly link the false IQ twin studies of Cyril Burt to the quizzical expression of Paul McCartney, and take in the Turing Test along the way.
Apparently, not only did Burt invent some of his twins, he also invented a couple of scientists to verify his genetic claims for them. Burt has a lot to answer for, not least the notion that because intelligence is in the breeding, we all need to be sorted into leaders and led at an early age. Newman uses one of Burt’s ‘made up’ characters to illustrate how absurd, but pervasive, Burt’s ideas still are; even though he’s been discredited. Theories of intelligence are used to justify power, control and even eugenics; which, by the way, is still active within the science of genetics.
But I shouldn’t dwell on this serious side to Newman’s show. Because it’s his humour and wit that are the stars here, with a connectivity of observations, in a relevant and perceptive way, which has you asking “How did he get there?” He draws out inconsistencies and absurdities, through laughter, that brings the audience to a state of wholehearted joy. The only downside being that, out of the 100 people in the room, one or two didn’t quite seem to get it; you do need to be on Newman’s wave length. I think there were some just carried along by the moment. But the person sitting next to me creased over so much I thought he was going to be sick.
With two 45 minute slots under his belt, Newman even had time to entertain us with a tune on his ukulele using his DNA sequence, which proved that…you will have to see the show to find out.
For tour dates see: robnewman.com/live.html