What Went on at the 2018 Compendium of Reason

Live at the Hammersmith Apollo December 1st

This year’s edition of Brian and Robin’s Christmas Compendium of Reason was another explosive extravaganza. More literally than ever before in 2018. Lots of things got blown up.

View a full gallery of images from Steve Best at the bottom of this page.

The evening started before the gig got going with volunteers from the Trussell Trust and the CSN running a mobile food bank collection out the front of the Apollo. We shouldn’t need food banks in Britain in 2018, but the awful reality is that more and more people are reliant on them. Which is why we were so delighted by the generosity of our audience who near filled the entire van with much needed contributions.

As tradition dictates, when the show kicked off it did so to the tune of The Steve Pretty Band which this year consisted of the talents of Tamar Collocutor, Ben Handysides, Jeff Miller, Steve Thompson and of course Steve Pretty himself.

Robin Ince takes to the stage to welcome everyone to the evening and give an update on the latest Brian Blessed based Infinite Monkey Cage news. Then Professor Brian Cox arrives to point out that entropy actually says that, contrary to a 1990’s smash hit, things can actually only get worse. Queue the entry of Pete Cunnah, Brian moving to the keyboards and a mini D:Ream reunion to get the night off to a flying start with Things Can Only Get Better.

Robin, cast and crew look on from side stage, beaming as a giddy Brian grins and grooves so much behind the keys we all wonder if he might pack the physics in. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you that happy”, Shambles producer Trent says as he comes off stage. “That was so much fun”, Brian and Pete giggle.

Next up it’s everyone’s favourite science presenter / Strictly contestant Steve Backshall  to bring the Christmas cheer with an eight minute talk about parasites.

The first former RI Christmas Lecturer of the evening is Professor Sophie Scott, accompanied by Dr Joe Devlin. A couple of years ago Joe put Robin in an MRI machine to play Just a Minute (watch that here) and this year he and Sophie re-create her Christmas Lecture demo wherein magnetic pulses are put into Robin’s brain to stop his speech. It’s entirely safe, honestly. We filmed the trials in soundcheck so we’ll put that up for Patreon supporters soon.

Next is the second Compendium first timer of the night, stand up and host of The Mash Report, Nish Kumar to chat about Brexit and Jesus. He’s followed by the second former Christmas lecturer of the evening so far, Professor Mark Miodownik with an experiment about why cats always land on their feet complete with cat balloon substitutes full of jelly.

He’s followed by Compendium and Nine Lessons regular Grace Petrie who, along with the band, perform a barnstorming version of her brilliant Black Tie anthem.

Brian returns, sans keyboard, for a physics talk about relativity and black holes, with some stunning new animations,  which will be expanded upon even further later in the evening.

It wouldn’t be a Compendium without Festival of the Spoken Nerd who are next along. Helen Arney, Steve Mould and Matt Parker have a song, facts and stats about bananas and two very fetching banana costumes, and dance moves, for Matt and Steve.

BAFTA and Olivier Award nominated actor Samuel West is next along to class things up with a beautiful reading of Richard Feynman while some tech work takes place behind the curtain.

When the curtain goes up, it’s the amazing Beardyman to close the first act with an explanation of science with loops and a soundscape that involves a live sampling of Brian saying ‘Universe’ in a very long and dramatic fashion.

Interval is a very brief 20 minutes which involves the frantic setting up of many things to come and grabbing a quick slice of pizza for the hard working crew.

Robin welcomes everyone back from interval and introduces Greg Foot and team who embark on the most ambitious demo ever seen at the Compendium. The Twelve Days of Christmas in twelve demos that involve a whole lot of pyrotechnics, fireworks, explosions, luminescence, confetti and volunteers. And set up and health and safety checks in the weeks preceding. And somehow, it all mostly works and only runs ‘slightly’ over. Also no-one catches fire. Although Helen Arney does scream at a maroon.

A musical interlude with The Steve Pretty Band, as they tour the evolution of music, while the stage is cleaned and mopped.

More explosions are on the menu next as Professor Andrea Sella celebrates some chemists birthdays a little early with some tales of scientific history that end in some rather hot, loud, large and very, very fiery exploding balloons on strings. The band and the crew side stage become briefly warm.

The final former Christmas Lecturer of the night comes in the shape of yet another first timer, Dr Kevin Fong. Against the backdrop of the Earthrise picture taken aboard Apollo 8, Kevin talks of the challenges of spaceflight.

Next is more comedy, plus piano, plus singing, plus all around excellence from Rachel Parris before the curtain comes down once more so the crew can get the final secret band set up.

Which means it’s time for a quick physics chat to finish up his Act 1 talk Brian, Robin and new special guests. 6 Music’s Shaun Keaveny, the man behind those VFX Brian showed earlier (as well as from films such as Ex-Machina) Andrew Whitehurst and theoretical physicist Professor Fay Dowker.

Then the curtain goes up and Orbital play it loud as people head to the front for an impromptu dance party. We’re running a bit late (I know, you’re shocked right?) so Orbital mix up their set and end with a remix of the Doctor Who theme.

Brian and Robin return to thank the performers and the audience, reminding everyone that profits from the night will be headed the way of Medecins Sans Frontiers, The Sophie Lancaster Foundation and Rennie Grove Hospice Care.

And it’s only 11:01. We started at 7:02pm so technically we kept it under four hours…

Thanks as always go to Robin, Brian and all the performers. To Giles Wakely and the team at Phil McIntyre. To the Cosmic Shambles team. And to all tech crew and staff at the Apollo.

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