The festival of the spoken nerd

Review by Rachel Thomas with Marianne Freiberger Share this page

In our ongoing research into the hypothesis that maths and science are the new rock'n'roll we ventured to the seedy streets of Soho, to see Festival of the spoken nerd at Soho Theatre. Otherwise known as Steve Mould, Helen Arney and Matt Parker, the FotSN have been touring their combination of comedy, science and maths for a while and are now filling the Soho Theatre for a run of five nights. The show was a selection of their favourite bits of the last two shows toured, with each of the three taking their turn to do their thing.

The first thing to strike us was the similarity of the crowd, both in type and behaviour, to the crowds attending any of the other comedy gigs here. Nerdery is no longer a niche market — we're all nerds now. Once ushered into the theatre we were presented with a slick show, with (slightly irritating) sound effects and power point slides, and a number of health-and-safety-bending experiments. A fantastically well-rehearsed team worked together to facilitate each others' performances.

Mould started with his speciality — the Mould effect — where a chain of beads pours out of a jar, seemingly defying gravity by rising higher and higher in the air before clattering back down to the stage. With effortless humour Mould explained the journey from discovering this phenomenon (in possibly dubious circumstances), to becoming a YouTube sensation, finding a scientific explanation and finally immortality in the effect being named after him. A final demonstration showed that there is always room for dub step to dial up the appreciation of any scientific phenomenon to 11.

Parker represented the mathsy part of the show, relentlessly exploiting mathematics' role as the queen of nerdery, but not without surprises. Parker proved we are all obsessed with spreadsheets, even if we don't realise it, by brilliantly showing our addiction to all things screens is really just an ongoing worship of Excel spreadsheets. And we particularly liked his great demonstration of parabolic mirrors as he sent heat across the stage causing a remote fire — all in honour of one of our own favourite mathematical shapes, the parabola.

Arney's electric ukulele and heavenly voice explored love scientifically and mathematically with a suitable helping of dark humour. The final number showed how well these three performers work together: Arney playing a maths based love song, supported by competing visual gags from Parker on an OHP and Mould on Power Point slides. It's always impressive when something is that slick but so relaxed that you can't tell which bits are improvised and which are rehearsed. Definitely worth seeing!

  • Want facts and want them fast? Our Maths in a minute series explores key mathematical concepts in just a few words.