This review was originally written for EdFringeReview.com
Festival of the Spoken Nerd are a trio of comedians with a particular propensity for all things scientific and mathematical and they profess to provide a cure for the ‘insatiably sci-curious’. Steve Bould, Matt Parker, and Helen Arney are engaging performers with a likeable self-effacing style and an endearing enthusiasm for their subject matter.
Their new show, Just For Graphs, is a celebration of the infinite variety of charts, plots and diagrams, from the classic Venn diagrams familiar to – and probably hated by – anyone with a Maths GCSE, to much more advanced examples, some of which genuinely astound in their complexity.
The three comedians each have their speciality. Bould is a self-confessed pyromaniac, Parke a lovably geeky Maths teacher, and Arney a musically gifted scientist (who has worked at CERN – as an after-dinner comedian). The trio take it in turns to present short five-minute segments, helping each other out and undermining each other with quick-witted insults in equal measure.
These segments are entertaining, but never awe-inspiringly so. Parker’s rapid calculations are impressive but his method is never satisfactorily explained; Arney’s tuneful interludes are enjoyable – ‘Deriving Gravity’, a parody of Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’ is particularly memorable – but they aren’t showstoppers; and Bould’s explanation of standing waves in tubes, quite literally illuminated by fire, is crowd-pleasing but a little underwhelming.
In truth, there is little real spectacle in Just For Graphs. Festival of the Spoken Nerd are slick, colourful performers, but they are a little too obviously rehearsed and although their experiments are interesting, they are nothing you couldn’t see at a high-school open day. The show lacks a wow factor.
Some moments are arresting for different reasons. Bould’s description of the birth of his child, and the calculations he made to predict the exact moment he became a proud father, cannot fail to bring a smile to the face; Bould’s shy, but secretly proud grin is charming. And a graph Parker presents that can plot any shape in the world is an intriguing introduction – one over which a certain Oxford physicist is still puzzling.
Festival of the Spoken Nerd’s Just For Graphs is moderately fun mid-afternoon entertainment, presented by some likeably nerdy comedians and featuring some fairly cool sciencey stuff. If you are sci-curious, it is an enjoyable hour.