So what is Uncaged Monkeys? It began life two years ago as a touring version of Robin Ince’s Radio 4 show, The Infinite Monkey Cage. The three-hour show - a cross between a series of short science lectures and a stand up comedy gig - has sold out venues all over the country. I was lucky enough to catch the last night of the tour, in Brighton.
Helen Arney continued the theme. I’ve never heard a love song about cryogenic freezing played on a ukelele before, which meant I hadn’t realised the gap this had left in my life.
Simon Singh demonstrated how the Enigma code was broken at Bletchley Park during World War II, showing us one of the encryption machines and how it worked. Ben Goldacre then spoke about pharmaceutical drug trials and unpublished data. These might sound like dry subjects, but in the hands of these speakers they had a stadium full of people following every word.
Adam Rutherford was up next, sharing his love letter to the space shuttle – a video put together from NASA’s archives showing clips of all 135 missions, set to a thumpingly loud soundtrack by 65daysofstatic (“some people have complained about the volume... but it’s the last day of the tour, and this is a band that needs to be played loud”).
As he pointed out, many of us grew up with the idea of space travel, so it seems almost commonplace. But it’s not. It’s an enormous feat of human endeavour, industry and imagination and the video captured that.
After the interval Ben Goldacre, Adam Rutherford and Brian Cox took questions from the audience via Twitter, and then Brian Cox took to the floor.
Robin Ince joked later that he could always see the audience thinking “I wish I hadn’t had that third pint” during Cox’s talk – an explanation of the Higgs-Boson and the ongoing work at CERN and the Large Hadron Collider(Cox works on the Atlas Project at CERN). I can’t blame alcohol for the fact that I didn’t follow everything, but it was probably the closest I’ve ever come to understanding another amazing feat of human engineering. If you want to find out more yourself, I highly recommend seeing Brian Cox speak or checking out one of his books; they go into much more detail than he is ever permitted on the television and unless you have a background in physics, are likely to leave your mind slightly boggled.
It was somewhat of a relief, then, when comic/songwriter Tim Minchin, finished off the show. I left with my cheeks aching and my mind reeling. Highly recommended.