Rob Newman: A Total Eclipse of Descartes – 21/02/17 – Review

“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” So said Nicholas Chamfort, and we certainly got our dose of this on Wednesday. A capacity audience turned out for a show with such an intriguing title.
I was curious to see how philosophy and comedy could be combined and Rob Newman showed us brilliantly that this can be done. As Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: “ A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” How right he was!

Rob began with an unlikely topic: the philosophy of education; to be precise, the 1944 Education Act and Cyril Burt. Rob superbly showed the flaws of the two tier system and nature versus nurture. He then went backwards in history touching on the philosophy of Sartre and Descartes. Who thought existentialism could be so funny or the phrase “I think, therefore I am.” Then added use of French accents for the philosophers was a touch of genius and added to the comedic effect.

Rob concluded the first half outlining a conversation with his daughter on the way to school which suddenly turned onto a Socratic dialogue – amazing!

How could he follow all this? By opening the second half reading from Darwin’s study of his child William, again with a suitably upper class accent to add artistic verisimilitude. This was followed by a foray into moral philosophy and the impossible question: is it better to kill one person in order to save eight. We could picture the eight people on the railway track and the fat man on footbridge who could be pushed into the path of the train to save the others and somehow he made this dilemma a source of laughter. Pavlov’s dogs were brought into the routine – with Russian accents – and theory that monkeys could, given time, type the works of Shakespeare.

Rob concluded with “music of the chromosomes” played on his ukulele. A brilliant end to a hilarious evening.

Rob’s use of different accents and the way he seamlessly segued from on philosophy to another plus several mentions of Colchester, to make us feel part of the show, gave us all a wonderful evening of laughter and enjoyment.

Wendy Hildreth

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