Review - Einstein: Master of the Universe

In a slight deviation from his usual weekend activities, Adam had the chance to see the new Australian musical Einstein:  Master of the Universe. Here is what he thought...

The glitzy world of music theatre is not a place where one might expect to find an in depth discussion on physics and the people that have discovered some of its greatest mysteries.  Yet the new musical production of Einstein:  Master of the Universe at Theatre Works takes on the challenge with a surprising charm and creativity which is exciting to watch.  Like the name suggests, the show brings the life of Albert Einstein to the stage, teasing out the thematic tensions surrounding the human cost to achieving greatness.    Was the show perfect?  No.  But there is something really exciting brewing here.


Even if you haven’t studied science you’ll probably know that Albert Einstein was a famous physicist.  Someone yells, “E=MC²” and you might be able to correlate the man to the equation.  But as the show points out, while Einstein was a genius and a pillar of the physics community he was also a deeply flawed man who cast out those around him in a single minded pursuit of his next great discovery.  While exploring this, Jess Newman’s book and score (yes, he wrote both) successfully help to bring to life Einstein’s inner thoughts and scientific theories.  These not only convey their meaning but generate the excitement and energy felt by the primary characters as they stumble about proving their concepts.  We see the greatest minds of the early 20th century together on stage and realise their quest for greater knowledge was not only driven by passion but by a desire for fame and notoriety. 


It consistently displays an innovative musicality which provides an increased level of novelty to the audience member’s ear.  Newman is also gifted at knowing when his characters need to sing.  Their transitions from spoken dialogue to singing seem natural and help to provide the actors with the substance they need to form convincing actions and objectives.  Newman’s text is not without its flaws however.  The show runs at nearly two and half hours in length which can definitely be felt by the end of the show.  As with any biopic of someone’s life, the creatives need to arrive at a decision about what story they are telling.  It is nearly impossible to encapsulate every aspect of a man like Einstein in a reasonable time frame and as such a decision to cut down certain parts of the content is needed.  Whether it be in taking a verse out of a song, or removing extraneous scenes which don’t develop character or plot, the writer needs to find an economy of language and music to get the story across.  Currently there are several points where the natural story arc seems to reach a climax or conclusion yet the show keeps going.


This weakness though is more than compensated for by the brilliant creative team surrounding Newman.  The cast all perform to a professional standard in their own right.  Scott Mackenzie gives an encapsulating performance as Einstein and Jessica Condon and Stephanie Adams provide a wonderful emotional depth in playing his first and second wives respectively.  Josiah Lulham gives a particularly pleasing performance in his role as the scientist Lorente, whose comic timing and mannerisms are unmatched in the show.  The cast has been moulded by the excellent direction of Daniel Czech and choreographer Nicholas Kyriacou who have spent the time to get the ensemble to push the script along while still finding moments that bring the audience into the inner life of the characters.  The design by Robert Alexander Smith uses particularly striking projected animations by Jack Kirby Crosby to maintain a sense of time and place while making the audience gasp at each transition.  Czech has also trained his cast to execute each scene change in way which keeps the pace of the show flowing without stopping for too many awkward blackouts.  While some of these cues still need tidying up, that will come with repetition.  Lucy Wilkins exceptional costuming aids the actors in adopting their characters and also gives the audience a context into the world in which they inhabit.


Overall, this was a supremely enjoyable night at the theatre which was also a valuable learning experience.  What is even more astounding is that Newman has written this work at the age of 22, supported by a similarly youthful creative group. It’s a completely Australian work about a man with international appeal and if that isn’t enough to get you in the door, the price tag of $35 surely will.  See it now, before you have to pay $80 for the next production.

Einstein: Master of the Universe is showing at Theatre Works until July 10th.  Tickets at http://www.theatreworks.org.au/whatson/event/?id=291