A scientific proof that goes disastrously wrong is at the heart of this 'science-in-theatre' play by Carl Djerassi. It could be the basis of an episode of Midsomer Murders perhaps, or a teasing 'did-he-really-do-it' thriller. In fact it's something very different - a hybrid of a serious courtroom drama and an overplayed workplace sitcom.
Taking the courtroom drama aspect first, we have a skewed version of how a prosecution might be conducted. The audience as jury is fair enough, but without a judge there is no sense of control, and the exchanges between the witnesses and Karen Archer's imperious prosecutor become two-way conversations, each interrupting the other. We then get the final summing up for the jury interspersed between these exchanges and the sense of mounting drama is dissipated.
Now the sitcom aspect. From the jaunty opening music onwards there are various indicators of comic perspective, including unpronounceable names, mad scientist hairstyles and irascible bosses who don’t like being interrupted by enthusiastic, Polish-American chemists desperate for long-term employment.
It’s all passably entertaining, even quite heart-warming at times, but once it's established that an alleged double murder has taken place, in revenge for thwarted ambition, the play goes round the houses trying to develop the plot without betraying the fact that the whole thing is far less substantial than it’s set up to be.
The study of ‘bubbleology’- the science of bubbles - in beer and champagne gives us the main clue as to the style being attempted: something frothy with a serious/scientific undertone. No doubt there are academic rivalries and jealousies in such a field, but what we get is neither especially funny on the one hand nor especially dramatic on the other, and the less said about the final scene the better.
Tim Dutton is very engaging as the impassioned chemist, out to wage war on the ‘jerks’ who are his university colleagues, and there is admirable support from Sara Griffiths as the (Polish-American) admin secretary who falls for him.
The scientific aspect is interesting in its own right, and the writer clearly knows his subject (he is an emeritus professor of chemistry), but what is never clear is whether the primary objective is to portray the seamier side of academia, or to create an extended riff on the notion of ‘killer bubbles’. Bit of a dangerous title, too.