Telling stories through singing a song of science

John Hinton’s Ensonglopedias of Science and Animals show how you can tell stories of complexity with conciseness and wit.

Science is complicated. Lots of difficult of words usually in Latin, complex terminology, and a need to really know your subject well to be able to articulate it to others. Many scientists struggle with sharing their knowledge, lost in their erudition, or just focused on their work.

Sometimes it takes an outsider, to be able to communicate science in an effective way. Cue John Hinton, theatre director, actor and science communicator, who has been delighting audiences internationally for years on science themes.

He started by presenting full stories of scientists’ lives such as Marie Curie (The Element in the Room), Einstein (Relatively Speaking), Darwin (Origin of the Species), which alas I have not yet seen, but what interests me is his Ensonglopedia of Science and and Ensonglopedia of Animals.

My daughter and I first came across John in 2017 when the University of Sussex had an open Astronomy night, and he was then trialling his Ensonglopedia of Science, where he took an alphabetical tour of science from Atoms to Zero. It was such an entertaining half hour we signed up to see him present the whole show at a packed Komedia as part of the Brighton Science Festival. Here he gave the full 26 A-Z, not just subjects, but also applying a different musical style to each letter, encouraging the audience to guess which style it was. So, we learnt about nuclear explosions through the style of beatbox (Big Band, Little Bang), how scientists seek knowledge via klezmer song and danced about quantum nuclear physics to the quickstep.

The songswere entertaining, informative and amazingly work for all ages. In one hour he effectively told 26 short musical stories.

Having taken this to the Brighton Fringe in 2017, he returns this year with another Ensonglopedia, this time of Animals. This time the whole family attended and again we were presented with 26 songs, each reflecting a letter, but this time organised by phylum, (animal classification by main features), starting with humans and working back through history to consider other mammals, lizards, fishes, worms and finally cell-like creatures. Each story again is packed with facts, presented in such an entertaining fashion that we enjoyed and learnt new facts and gained a better understanding of natural history.

If you never heard of a quokka, leafy sea dragon, or chocolate chip sea star in text, let along in song, go to his show. We got to know so much in such a short time, that it did feel that we had a tour of not just of the animal kingdom, but also through time.

The Brighton Fringe quite rightfully has built its reputation as the place to see the wild, wacky or just plain unusual. This show perfectly fits the bill, by telling stories of animals, of the natural history of animals, and of life on earth itself.

You learn, you wonder, you understand. That is storytelling at it’s best and John’s ability to be witty, concise and informative, makes him one of the best I know.

His last performances at the Fringe are this Saturday and Sunday at 12.00 at the Old Courthouse off Church Street, take an hour out and learn more about the natural world in an hour than you ever imagine.

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