Infinite Monkey Cage live at Latitude review
Andrew Mickel14 July 2012
Ince, Murray and Pascoe do a sterling job with a stretched conceit...
Bananas versus Minidiscs! Lycra versus golf balls! Science versus art!
Only one of these is the artificial construction of opposites in a panel debate by the Infinite Monkey Cage live at Latitude, which recorded a show for the last its current run on Radio 4 this morning in front of a huge audience.
The aircraft hangar that is the Comedy tent is a tricky arena at the best of times, but fair play to the panel – Robin Ince and Brian Cox presenting as usual, Sara Pascoe and Al Murray representing the world of art (hmmmm), and scientists Andrew Pontzen and John Butterworth – they seem gamely aware there's a recording to get on with.
And they have to be quite game, because on top of the mass arena and the frankly absurd conceit of the 'science versus art' set-up, there are other problems to tackle. The 'science as entertainment' idea behind Infinite Monkey Cage has always been a bit of a stretch, simultaneously trying to say that science is interesting enough to stand on its own two feet without dressing it up, all the while doing just that with superficial jokes on big-name science news (the God particle's not about God, kids!).
Take today's debate seriously and we're stuck in superficial territory between two bona-fide scientists and two comedians who can't represent or explain all of artistic endeavour. Take it on the comedy merits, and the scientists are not the most interesting people to listen to.
And there's one other fundamental problem I really wasn't expecting: Brian Cox. He's so keenly trying to make sure that SCIENCE WINS that he is blunderingly arrogant for much of the show. And when you're in a room so large you can't get a good view of his lovely hair, that's a problem.
Indeed, much of the sterling work done by the comedians seems to be balancing him out. Mr Latitude himself, Robin Ince, is so comfortable as a host that he can make light of the situation.
Al Murray brings a strain of the Pub Landlord's wilful ignorance to bring some much-needed laughs and act as an agent provocateur.
And Sara Pascoe offers up a very interesting take on what's needed to get people who don't listen to Radio 4 or go to Latitude interested in science and the arts. (Her argument seemed to fall on rather stoney ground, unsurprisingly. Sara: I have your grew-up-in-Essex, chip-on-the-shoulder back.)
This was, despite the review that's just been written, an interesting show – it just happens that the problems with it are on the surface and easy to spot. There's also the upside that it means Pascoe is now here to do her Edinburgh show, which can only be a good thing.
As Live Buzzcocks showed last year, transferring successful media properties to this unpredictable stage isn't easy, and there's definitely more Radio 4 shows that could take a good crack at this. It's probably just for the best if it isn't a show that needs more subtle balancing and editing to produce a polished end product.
Your rating: None
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