What Went on at the 2019 Compendium of Reason

Live at the Hammersmith Apollo December 6th

Another year of Brian and Robin’s traditional extravaganza of secret guests has come and gone. Here’s who was there and what went down.

View a full gallery of our favourite images from our official photographer Natalie Shaw at the bottom of this page.

As last year, there was a food bank collection out the front of the Hammersmith Apollo before the show kicked off and once again we were overwhelmed by the contributions from our audience. The CSN team and the Trussell Trust left with a van full of much needed donations for emergency food and household parcels over the Christmas period. Thank you to everyone who donated.

Some tube delays for people getting into Hammersmith meant we started 10 mins late but not to worry, we’d claw the time back in the running order. We never overrun…

Steve Pretty announces the start of the show by blowing into a large conch shell. The house band, Compendium stalwarts Tamar Collocutor, Ben Handysides, Jeff Miller, Steve Thompson, Ollie Weston and Steve Pretty himself, kick into life with a number infused with samples from space missions and an array of lasers courtesy of Seb Lee-Delisle and his team. Who knew Matt Parker was so adept at laying laser cable… 

Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox take to the stage to welcome everyone to this annual chaos and chat of how this double act of particle physics and cardigans works. Ably assisted by the biggest version of the incredible screen used on their Universal arena tour that we could fit in the building, Brian kicks off the science with a lecture on our current understanding of black holes.

And with that, we are away, and everyone else who appears comes as a surprise for the audience. First up is Dr Dean Burnett, to deconstruct happiness and whether or not Christmas actually makes us happy. Next along is Steve Backshall to talk of climate change and his time in the Arctic paddling at speed away from inquisitive polar bears much to the amusement of the sold out Apollo.

Our first musical guest of the evening is up next and it’s none other than Tanita Tikaram and her band to perform a brilliant version of one of her hits, Good Tradition which really gets the crowd going.

Time for a little fireside chat next as last year’s RI Christmas lecturers Professors Alice Roberts and Aoife McLysaght curl up on some chesterfields, in their PJs, to talk of genetics and dogs. Dr Andrew Steele is next on the running order to discuss a survey in which most people said we shouldn’t go back to the moon. They are of course wrong.

It’s time for some The Sky at Night next as Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock arrives to talk of, well, the sky at night, space and, of course, The Clangers. Steve Pretty and the Origin of the Pieces take centre stage next for a music lesson and sing along edition of a new number composed by Steve’s young daughter, and remixed by the band with robot drums, sleigh bells and, naturally, more lasers. Farting on the Sofa is sure to be a classic. 

Throughout Act 1, and Act 2 to follow, Robin and Brian periodically pop back between performers with tales of dens, Buzz Aldrin and entropy.

But to close Act 1 it’s a storming 20 minute set from one of the world’s finest comedians, Eddie Izzard. Over 20 mins he talks of politics, ‘Boris Trump’, doing improv in multiple languages and, if I remember correctly, chickens with guns… There was a lot going on backstage. A rousing round of applause and we’re into interval after a near two hour Act 1.

It’s a classical start to Act 2 as Brian introduces Jack Liebeck and his string section for a beautiful rendition of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. The crowd sit in raptured silence for 15 minutes before erupting into applause.

Now, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some frantic epidemiology would it? Cue Dr Ben Goldacre bursting onto stage with his laptop in hand for some live All Trials dataset work.

Robin returns to introduce his Book Shambles co-host Josie Long who talks of her love of Greta Thunberg and then along comes Grace Petrie with a musical call to arms for the election with a belting version of her anthem, Farewell to Welfare.

As Robin and Brian talk of the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings this year, it’s time for an astronaut. And of course, it’s our Cosmic Shambles regular spacefarer Commander Chris Hadfield who talks about reusable rockets and the future of spaceflight.

The great Milton Jones is next on the bill with a set that is pure Milton Jones. He provides ample time for people to catch up…

And so we’re almost at the end, but given the historic significance of Apollo 50th, Robin says we should get Chris Hadfield back on stage one more time. But also that having one astronaut just seems insufficient and so Chris returns with Britain’s own two astronauts, Dr Helen Sharman and Major Tim Peake. The place erupts.

The five of them pull up a chair and spend 20 odd minutes sharing their space stories and taking audience questions. Helen assures us the ISS is like a five star hotel compared to MIR and also reveals that the two songs she took with her to space, were by Tanita Tikaram! An amazing fact we genuinely didn’t know when building the bill! They talk about how space makes you realise that people, not things, are what really matter. There’s also lots of talk about enemas. 

With Chris on stage already, the musical finale is set. Jack Leibeck and his strings return and Chris plays, Jewel in the Night; A Christmas carol he wrote and performed while on the ISS, the first ever original song performed in space. The song ends, the music continues and it bleeds into Space Oddity. As the final chorus erodes Robin and Brian return to thank everyone. It’s 11:05pm. There’s a standing ovation. It’s over for another year.

Our next science, comedy, music mashup shows are five shows of Nine Lessons and Carols for Curious People at Kings Place in London next week. There’s very few tickets left so snap them up here. Then on May 17th 2020 it’s the big one, Sea Shambles at the Royal Albert Hall with Robin, Steve Backshall, Helen Czerski, Josie Long, Lemn Sissay, British Sea Power and LOADS more secret guests. No saying who might turn up for that… It’s an ocean themed Compendium for the summer! Tickets here.

And of course, we’ll be back at Hammersmith again for Compendium in 2020. December 3rd, tickets on sale now.

All profits from the Compendium go to our chosen charities for this year, Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without BordersThe Sophie Lancaster FoundationRennie Grove Hospice and Wamba Community Trust. Proceeds from the sale of the new Compendium logo shirts also go to charity. If you missed out on one, they’ll be at Nine Lessons and online in the new year. 

As always it takes a LOT of people dedicating time and effort to make Compendium happen. So thanks go to Robin, Brian and all the performers. It’s a little bit mad that this idea Robin had 14 or so years ago continues to grow and grow. Thanks to Giles, Trev and the team at Phil McIntyre. Thanks to Trent, Melinda and the Cosmic Shambles Network team. And to all tech, FOH and medical crew and staff at the Apollo. And of course to you, the audience for keeping on coming back. See you at King’s Place next week, and the Royal Albert Hall in the summer.

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