The shock of white hair, the spectacles, the moustache; sat at his desk, carefully making notes in his journal, string music and smoke from his pipe filling the air, the image is unmistakable as veteran Fringe performer Pip Utton waits patiently for the audience to fill the Upstairs room of the Pleasance Courtyard to be entertained for an hour by the genial company of the late Albert Einstein.
Encouraging the audience to close their eyes and participate in his thought experiments, any theatrical performance is an act of imagination on both sides and it is this which Utton wishes to tap, saying that particular resource is more powerful than mere knowledge which can be limited: “Logic can take you from A to B, but imagination can take you anywhere.”
His subject famously informal, Utton’s accent and manner are gentle, speaking more softly than a stage performer might traditionally but it encourages silent attention from the audience punctuated only by occasional laughter, for he is charming and fascinating, his characterisation extending beyond the visual: “Time magazine once called me a cartoonist’s dream come true, and I think they were right.”
Utton’s monologue is ostensibly structured as a lecture but the subjects are broad and apparently rambling, though every anecdote and memory has a purpose as they weave into one another, physics, family, the shadow of Hitler and Nazi Germany, and the atomic horror Einstein indirectly gave rise to as practical applications were built upon his purely theoretical work.
Einstein’s failures as a scientist and a human acknowledged alongside the history making successes, there is perspective and acceptance of his failed marriage and poor relationship with his children, a sacrifice made in the pursuit of his intellectual quest which encompassed the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion and ultimately the special and general theories or relativity.
Confounding the laws of space, time and reality, the hour flashes past as though chasing after a beam of light, a vicarious encounter with a voice from the past whose humble genius (he preferred think of himself as “curious”) echoes forward into a world he helped shape yet who was content with a desk to write at, his music and a cat by his side.