Went to see The God Particle Play at the Battersea Mess and Music Hall on Thursday night. Took a friend. Neither of us is especially scientific; he’s an economist and I’m a lapsed engineer. But we really enjoyed it.
It’s one of those plays that I need to ponder for a while before deciding what I think. But, as an entertaining night out, it ticked all the boxes. The two actors were terrific. The ales on offer at the bar were first rate (though the speed of service was lamentable). There were lots of friends in the room. And the conversation afterwards was stimulating, no doubt provoked by what we’d just seen.
The God Particle is a play addressing the interaction between Christian faith and scientific atheism. The two main characters represent those two perspectives. One is an Anglican Vicar and the other is a Quantum Physicist. The Vicar is male. The scientist is female. And there’s a faint whiff of sexual attraction that develops throughout the play. Together these two characters investigate some unusual events in the village of Threepiggs and as they do so their search for an explanation is the vehicle that draws us into the bigger debate. The writer, James Cary, describes the play as a romantic comedy sci-fi. He’s probably right.
I need to declare my interest. James (or Jam as I’ve always known him), is a friend. We’ve known each other for years. I’m pretty sure I’m responsible for most of his best material (ahem)! And so I’ve long been a fan of his work; especially ‘An Infinite Number of Monkeys’ and ‘the early work on ‘Think the Unthinkable’. I watched Bluestone 42 out of loyalty and, after initial misgivings, grew to enjoy it more and more. This play saw a welcome return, in my view, to the subtle, clever humour that I’ve always admired him for.
The promotional blurb on their website says this about the play
Ever seen a romantic comedy sci-fi? Dr Bex Kenworthy from the Institute of Advanced Quantum Theory has been stood up by a lab-technician. When Dr Gilbert Romans arrives, things are looking up, until she discovers he is, in fact, the new local vicar. A die-hard sceptical scientist and a heavenly-minded vicar seem to create entirely the wrong kind of chemical reaction. But there was undoubtedly a spark. On top of this, strange things are going on in the village of Threepiggs. Is there any link between exploding TV-detector vans, a disappearing vicar and the unexplained bending of time? Will science or faith prevail? It’s a little bit Rev meets Hitchhiker’s Guide or The Vicar of Dibley meets Dr Who. The play features two actors and lasts 70 minutes with no interval.
For me, it’s one of those plays that I have to think about for a while afterwards. I’m a slow learner. And I’m not a theatre critic. It’s probably really obvious to everyone else, but I wanted time to think about what Jam was trying to say, how he’d tried to say it and whether he’d been fair in saying it in this way. I need time to reflect rather than simply shoot from the hip. That was Thursday night. Today I’m good to go.
If I’ve understood him correctly, Jam is gunning for close minded scientists who think that a scientific explanation is all the only explanation that we need. Bex Kenworthy is representative of atheists who use (abuse) the scientific enterprise to over-reach itself and expect it to do more than it can. She ought not to use her science to support her atheism. But she does. And Gil tries to challenge that. The play tries to convince us that science and theology are unnatural enemies. There’s conflict where there doesn’t need to be. A scientific explanation for events doesn’t necessarily preclude a complementary theological one. And we’re cleverly drawn towards that conclusion by the promising romance we see played out by the two characters. I guess the purpose of the play is to try to convince those that are sceptical about the claims of Christianity because of their scientific presuppositions that they needn’t be. After all, Gil repeatedly rebukes Bex for being so ‘close minded’.
Though I was happy to see myself and my world view carried by the Anglican Vicar. I wanted to know whether the scientific atheists felt the same way. I wanted to know whether they thought they’d been fairly represented by Bex. I’ve grown up watching Christians being caricatured. I’m used to it. I did wonder whether Jam had set up Bex as a straw (wo)man and then proceeded to destroy her. That’s probably a little harsh. But I did want to know what scientific atheists had made of her. Obviously, I agree with his presuppositions. But I wanted atheistic scientists to feel that they’d been taken seriously.
Let me state the obvious, this is a play. It’s not a book. Or a talk. And it raises questions. It gives people permission to talk about the issues over a beer afterwards. And to that end, it was fantastic. It’s on in Edinburgh over the summer. Do yourself a favour; go and see it.