Review of 'Brian and Robin's Christmas Compendium of Reason 2018'

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A while ago we received tickets to see the taping of radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage which is a slightly irreverent look at Science staring the (somewhat serious) Physicist Brian Cox and (somewhat not serious) Comedian Robin Ince. Through all the laughs we learned a lot and it was a really fun experience. Certainly Cox is known for his ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in an easy and engaging way. This, coupled with the not-entirely-ignorant quips of Ince make for an interesting show.

When tickets for “Brian and Robin's Christmas Compendium of Reason” came up we had no idea what to expect but we knew it would be entertaining. We were certainly not wrong. The show consisted of a number of acts including comedians, music, brief scientific talks, and fun science (and often seasonal) experiments. Each act was only about 10-15 minutes long though, as is traditional in this now yearly production, the show ran quite a bit over anyway though the only one that seemed slightly put out by this was Ince who served as MC for the evening.

A few highlights from the evening:

  • Science presenter (and Strictly Come Dancing contestant) Steve Backshall kicked off the evening with an uncomfortably graphic slide show on parasites suggesting that we may actually need parasites to be healthy and that modern ailments such as asthma could be due to not having any.
  • Amusingly, Professor Sophie Scott (accompanied by Dr Joe Devlin) did an experiment on Ince that involved him reciting the poem “Jaberwocky” while a field was applied to his brain causing him to start spouting (unexpected) nonsense.
  • Comedian Nish Kumar from television's topical comedy show The Mash Report talking about Brexit including laying into his own parents for being anti-immigration despite being immigrants themselves. Lots of fowl language but really, very funny.
  • Professor Mark Miodownik talking about how cats can survive falls from incredible heights including first showing a video of his cat falling from ten stories to the street below (and running away unharmed). Here the focus was on how import surface area is with the larger the surface area the more susceptable the body is to the effects of gravity with an experiment to show how one large and one small but identically dense balloons react to drops from the same height (the large one breaks, the small one doesn't though the large one broke only on the second try…).
  • Co-host Brian Cox spent a few minutes admirably explaining the fundamentals of general and special relativity.
  • A trio of scientist comedians Festival of the Spoken Nerd who had a bit of song about bananas, which turn out to be slightly radioactive due to the presence of (radioactive element) potassium. The question about many different every day things was “How many bananas?” which was visually aided by some hilarious banana costumes.
  • Shakespearean actor Samuel West ended the first half of the evening standing in front of the curtain and reading from a paper by Richard Feynman on the importance of science.
  • Musician Beardyman started the second half of the show demonstrating his amazing composition talent by creating a piece in real-time based on a sampling of Brian Cox saying “Universe”.
  • Scientist Greg Foot performing the seemingly impossible: The Twelve Days of Christmas in twelve demos…in 12 minutes. Yeah, right. Really ran over but a whole lot of fun with new words to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” including “12 flying bears” (never really worked), “10 Christmas crackers” (talking about how they work and including a REALLY large cracker whose bang was accentuated with pyrotechnics), “4 flaming shots” (with a bang!), and “3 candy canes” (red, green and white foam resulting from some chemical reactions, with Cox providing assistance). Watching the mad scramble through the days was as much fun as the demos themselves!
  • The session band for the evening, The Steve Pretty Band, explained the history of rythum and showed off their “robot drummer” (a remote controlled set of base drums) as the stage was cleared from the chaos of the Twelve Days of Christmas…
  • Professor Andrea Sella gave a bit of a talk about the elements including about spectral lines which are used to tell what elements are present with an exciting demonstration of different elements present in balloons exploding above the stage.
  • Dr. Kevin Fong showed a picture from the “Apollo 8” mission of earth taken on December 24th from the moon and talked about how a flat-earther chased a number of the Apollo astronauts to get them to swear on a bible that they had been on the moon. He said most astronauts ran away but when Buz Aldrin was approached he realised there was only way to put a stop to this and punched the man in the face. The takeaway from this is: If someone tells you the earth is flat, shut them up by punching them in the face.
  • Comedian/musician Rachel Parris performing her X-Factor entry “I'm amazing” (very funny).
  • The second last event of the evening saw Cox finishing his talk on relativity by talking about black holes with 6 Music’s Shaun Keaveny, Andrew Whitehurst and theoretical physicist Professor Fay Dowker including showing the incredible simulations of black holes created for the film Interstellar.

See the full report of what was shown at

The large Hammersmith (ok “Eventim”) Apollo was a sell-out which was good to see as much of the proceeds went to charity including a silent auction of celebrity memorabilia in the first floor foyer. At over four hours (including a 20 minute interval), the audience was engaged and rowdy throughout…partying quite hard to the music of 80s techno group Orbital at the end of the evening which was a trifle loud (and very repetitive) for us but amazing looking.

A really enjoyable evening with just the right mix of science, comedy and music. Don't like one of the acts? Wait a few minutes there will be another along shortly. Sort of a modern day science vaudeville show. Yeah it was a bit long but it was so much fun. We will certainly be looking at attending next year again, if we can get tickets…

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2018-12-01

Eventim Apollo

Location: London (England)

Address: 45 Queen Caroline Street London, England W6 9QH

Public Transport: TUBE Hammersmith

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8563 3800


Formerly simply the “Hammersmith Apollo” this iconic venue may be uncomfortable and showing it's age but it still has the air of majesty and history about it as it has been largely untouched since the days of the Beatles playing here. The wide (and high) auditorium has no air conditioning with a large stalls area (standing at back) and a large single balcony (circle). The main foyer has four, count them, four bar areas (and a souvenir kiosk).