Fringe review: A Flying Photon

Rachel Rayner, Science Explainer, fuses physics with theatre and comedy in a glittering journey beyond the edges of the visible spectrum. ★★★★

Mar 03, 2021, updated Mar 03, 2021

Physicist, poet and performer Rachel Rayner has set herself a most challenging task – sharing her awe of the photon using only a sequinned outfit, a jug of water and a data projector. Fortunately, she has enough enthusiasm for her mission to light up the tiny stage, keeping the audience chuckling with an engaging Fringe-style version of a science TED talk.

Rayner introduces us to the tiny packet of light at the centre of this show – her favourite sub-atomic particle, the photon – before leading us through the entire electromagnetic spectrum. From high-energy gamma radiation right through to low-energy radio waves, Rayner uses comedy, clever metaphor and gorgeous imagery from a variety of astronomical telescopes to infect us with her enthusiasm for the quantum world.

She’s no stranger to the challenge of demystifying science for those who might not know their way around the Standard Model of Particle Physics. Rayner travelled the country presenting shows for Questacon before settling in Bendigo at the Discovery Science and Technology Centre. She’s presented live streams from the ocean depths aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus and explained the launch of world’s largest radio telescope, South Africa’s Square Kilometre Array (SKA), to audiences across the world.

So, presenting a show that illuminates a subject mostly invisible to the naked eye should not pose much of a challenge. For this 50-minute performance, Rayner waltzes the full electromagnetic spectrum across the stage, from the invisible gamma, X-ray and ultraviolet radiation, through visible light, then out the other side to infrared, micro and radio waves.

Yes, there are graphs. But there are also dogs. And most interestingly, for each wavelength of light, Rayner shows us breathtaking images of the Milky Way taken with the telescope scanning the cosmos for that particular frequency. From the Fermi telescope searching for gamma rays, through the Chandra and Planck observatories and back down to the Square Kilometre Array on Earth, the shimmering quantum world is made visible.

Part comedy, part physics lecture but entirely engaging, this show is a refreshing hybrid of art and science, making quantum knowledge accessible and putting the “light” in entertainment. The puns were clearly infectious.

A Flying Photon is at The Sky Room at The Griffins Hotel until March 7, with performances also at The Launch Pad at Stone & Chalk on March 5 and 6.

Read more Adelaide Fringe reviews and previews  here.



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