Robin Ince will see your carol service and raise you chaos theory, ironing board cuisine, Darwin folk songs and a laser harp. The acclaimed comedian and science enthusiast responded to an accusation from Christian Voice’s Stephen Green that he wanted to “ban Christmas” with an annual variety show, now in its sixth and final year. Rationalism can be positive, rather than negative: rather than standing in opposition to one thing, Ince embraces a million things, from philosophy and cartography to comedy and music.
A stellar line-up performs over 10 nights, some across the run, others dropping in for a show. One constant is Steve Pretty and the Origin of the Pieces, who put a groovy jazz spin on traditional carols in between acts and conduct a live experiment, measuring audience reaction to an improv game involving, among other things, playing their instruments with no hands. They’re typical of the evening’s wonderful combination of skill, knowledge and willingness to play in order to engage every single viewer.
A staggering 14 acts maintain this generosity of spirit, until even the most unpromising concept becomes involving. Subjects many of us would change channels to avoid (as someone who studied only humanities from AS level onwards, that’s most of the maths and science for me) opened out into engrossing ideas like free will, social injustice and the exhilaration of stepping out into the unknown. “In physics, ‘dark matter’ basically means ‘Dunno'” admitted physics teacher-turned “Geekpop” pioneer Jonny Berlinner, and the genius of this show is making such ignorance feel like a liberation.