This is part of a series of posts inspired by the Royal Society’s One Culture festival of literature and the arts.

Guest post by Annabel Slater, digital volunteer

Hanging Hooke is an intimate and energetic play. Its central character is the 17th century scientist, Robert Hooke. The sole other character is a painter, Jack Hoskyns, who describes Hooke as a young boy. Both characters are brought to life by Chris Barnes of the Take the Space theatre company, who stands and strides with great energy upon the small stage, directly addressing the audience eye to eye as he speaks.

Chris Barnes as Robert Hooke

The play shows us Hooke at different stages in his life, the physical and mental differences adeptly conveyed by Barnes. Hooke’s earlier precocious and innocent intelligence becomes in turn the firmer energy and experience of the adult Hooke, and eventually, the forceful glare and frustration of an old, hunch-backed man who rails bitterly against what he has been cheated from in his life. Isaac Newton, Hooke’s enemy of mutual dislike and scientific rivalry, is mentioned to us first in dark and oblique terms, then with increasing bitterness. Other slights and frustrations follow, confided to us by an increasingly furious and colourful character. By now, we are Hooke’s confidantes.

The play is framed by the auction of a batch of Hooke’s rediscovered scientific notes, which actually occurred after the notes were found in 2006. The notes, from Hooke’s period as Curator for the Royal Society, were estimated to have a value of £1 million. Throughout the play, Hooke speaks to us from a stage whose floor is made of manuscript page, a powerful figure of science shouting out from centuries past. There is a sudden jump to the present, and now Hooke appeals to us in the current day to save his legacy from the auction.

It seemed most appropriate that a performance of Hanging Hooke should finally come to the Royal Society, where Hooke performed his scientific experiments.

Chris as Hooke in close-up

Hanging Hooke was written by Siobhán Nicholas and performed by Chris Barnes.

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