Review: Hanging Hooke at Greenwich Theatre
Hanging Hooke, Greenwich Theatre
"Chris Barnes took us on a journey of energy and intrigue. He showed us light and gloom; diverting particles and heliocentric heresies; vacuum pumps and broken hearts (which, I suppose, are the same thing, metaphorically speaking)"
- Oh, he was a real piece of work, Isaac Newton. That apple thing. What a farce. What a dismal betrayal of the truth.
Newton never discovered gravity. What happened was this: Newton was unpopular. With people generally and with Mother Nature in particular. She did not like her infinite wonders subject to the slide rule.
So the apples took a vote. One of their number volunteered to donk the boffin on the bonce in an effort to recreate the weight of opprobrium Mother Nature wished to heap upon him.
The apple did the deed but Newton survived - and the spin master, thief and revisionist turned the humiliation into a presentational triumph.
Newton never recorded the scene accurately. Around him, the evidence of other failed attempts to do away with him. To his left, an anvil trapped in the Lincolnshire sod. To his right, an Acme rocket, its fuse wire still fizzing, nose cone similarly buried.
Grrr. That Isaac Newton. He was a real piece of work. Even now he's stealing the limelight.
This production by Take The Space didn't mention any of that stuff. The play wasn't even about Isaac Newton. Not directly anyway. It was about Robert Hooke - the genius erased from history.
The man who discovered gravity before Newton; saw biological evolution before Darwin; designed St Paul's and the Monument alongside Christopher Wren. The galumphing innocent with the hump and the limp and the undimmed passion for knowledge who figured out how springs sprung, who gave us the biological term "cell", who was the midwife of the Royal Society and the father of microscopy.
Do have a sash window? Who came up with that doozie? That's right. Robert Hooke. Without the Hookester, there'd be no fresh air for anyone till the invention of the Expelair DX100 extractor fan hundreds of years later.
And have you heard of him? Did he get his beaky physog on a five pound note? Did Apple call its first hand-held digital device "the Hooke"? (Yeah, I know, that would have been a marketing nightmare).
No. Because Isaac Newton stole Hooke's work, smashed his portrait, plotted to burn his papers and expunge him from history. Hooke was wronged by the jackanape and coxcombe Newton who spoke fondly of his tender years watching the world in a rockpool - even though he grew up in land-locked Grantham.
I mean, come on! Figure it out, people! It was Robert Hooke who grew up on the Isle of Wight. He was the one who delighted in shells and crabs while Newton swotted like a swot and lied like a liar. The swot. The liar. Grrrr. That Newton. I'd like to have five minutes in a room alone with him.
Anyway, that was the essence of Hanging Hooke.
The telling of Hooke's story at last - 300 years later - in the form of an Olympian one-man show with the precise and charismatic Chris Barnes playing, first, Jack Hoskins, the turncoat friend of the lop-sided polymath, and then the genius himself, spider-limbed and blessed with youthful vigour initially and later, bent with bitterness and paranoia.
Was Robert Hooke our English Leonardo Da Vinci? asks the play. More pertinently, was he our Giordino Bruno?
("Who's he?" you cry. "Ex-actly!" I shout, thumping the table, as you fall into my cunning trap.)
This story by Siobhan Nicholas takes us from a 2006 Bonhams sale where Robert Hooke's vindication - his rediscovered 500-page Folio - was put up for sale, back to the genesis of a feud that threatened to erase this treasure trove of original thinking.
The story had it all - a Salieri/Mozart bonfire of the vanities, a Da Vinci Code style plot to alter history and overturn conventional assumptions. Secret societies and unyielding fidelities and rancid betrayals brought alive with a tour de force display of Barnes-storming physical and verbal gymnastics that was as breathless and seamless as the force of gravity itself.
Chris Barnes took us on a journey of energy and intrigue. He showed us light and gloom; diverting particles and heliocentric heresies; vacuum pumps and broken hearts (which, I suppose, are the same thing, metaphorically speaking).
He got us onside, did Mr Barnes. So much so that we, the audience, became fired with indignation. Railing at the injustice of this forgotten man. Ready to storm Parliament, to erect a statue made from ice cream tubs, to rally a tiny army of Joanna Lumleys, programmes held high and fashioned in the manner of a khukuri, demanding recompense for Robert the robbed.
Of course the truth may be different. Hooke may not have been spritely of demeanour and generous of spirit as the playwright and her actor would have us believe.
As I discovered later, the history books dwell on his dark side. His squabbling, his fractiousness, his anger, his bombast and... (like you didn't see this coming)... his gravity.
The writer may have stretched the truth. But the truth is elastic. Indeed, the extension of a truth is in direct proportion with the load added to it as long as this load does not exceed the elastic limit.
(Which, as all physicists know, is Hooke's Law.)