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Arts & Entertainment - Reviews

St John’s science fair draws huge crowds – and challenges minds of young and old

Mark, Emma and Mum marvel at the effect of Dry Ice at the St John's Academy Science FairMark, Emma and Mum marvel at the effect of Dry Ice at the St John's Academy Science FairIt was raining, it was cold, parked cars stretched back to the main road, and the crowds thronged into St John’s Academy for the fourth annual Science Fair.  Run as part of National Science and Engineering Week, the Fair is designed for families with plenty of hands-on activities for the young – in fact for all the family.

In the atrium you could test your powers of estimation with paper-clips, create intricate structures out of spaghetti and make oboes from milk-shake straws.  Or you could build your own Stonehenge and wonder at the model of Crofton’s famous pumping station.

There was a splendid and very much working Victorian ‘harmonograph’ drawing extraordinarily satisfying spiral designs as its pendulums interacted.

Dr Mark with some of his enthuriastic audienceDr Mark with some of his enthuriastic audienceThe first show of the day completely filled the Theatre on the Hill for Dr Mark Biddiss’ Cool Science and Maths Show.  He used to be a space scientist working at London University on NASA projects – now he can fly a miniature rocket across the front of the stage using just water and a foot pump.

His audience – which stretched from infant school age to grandparent age – was fascinated  different sized balloons that danced over a hair dryer, coloured balloons that did or didn’t burst when caught in the light from an overhead projector, a pen-cap submarine that moved effortlessly up and down inside a bottle of water…and much else besides including some tricky maths.

He showed us the maths problem which added up to ‘a grey elephant from Denmark’ – and those who got that one wrong were just ‘statistical outliers’…remember that when you next get an exam answer wrong.

He also produced the maths formula that always ends up at seven: choose any number between one and nine: add four, multiply by two, add six, divide by two and finally subtract the number you first thought of.  Magic.  

At the end of the show, several very young members of the audience insisted on shaking Dr Mark’s hand – just in case he had something hidden up his sleeve?   Goodness knows what his afternoon audience were going to be treated to at his Tricks of the Mind session.

Back in the atrium St John’s Eco Racing team were selling small rabbits made by the school’s very own 3-D printer.  The bare bones (is that a technical term?) of their new chassis were on show with its tiny engine and washers made to the students’ design by the 3-D printer.

They were very grateful for a £200 grant from the Rotary Club to help with materials.

They hope to get their new car to do 500 miles to the gallon – an amazing target whatever the Chancellor fishes out of his budget box next Wednesday.  They will be taking part in the national trials at Malory Park trials on June 18 and are sure the new car will be ready by June 17.  

Good luck to them…and very good luck to all the youngsters who found the science activities and the maths so enthralling.

Olivia decides whether to eat or buildOlivia decides whether to eat or buildJamie tries the Straw OboeJamie tries the Straw OboeOllie learns how to programme a RobotOllie learns how to programme a RobotRowan builds her RocketRowan builds her RocketTheo builds a skyscraperTheo builds a skyscraperZoe braves the Smell Identity tubeZoe braves the Smell Identity tubeBethany guesses the soundBethany guesses the soundThomas carefully adds to his buildingThomas carefully adds to his buildingTom Alfie and Charlotte dig for bones and buried treasuretTom Alfie and Charlotte dig for bones and buried treasuretSimon looks to the heavensSimon looks to the heavens


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Angels and the Apocalypse – St John’s Players at The Theatre on the Hill

Angels and the Apocalypse  was inspired by the media furore surrounding forecasts that the world would end on 21 December 2012.  It turned out that the only thing ending on that day was a cycle of the ancient Mayan long calendar. But it certainly set the students of the St John’s Players thinking.

Front of stage: Tristan (Christopher Baker) talks with Jack (Edd France) in front of gang members & watched over by the Light AngelsFront of stage: Tristan (Christopher Baker) talks with Jack (Edd France) in front of gang members & watched over by the Light AngelsGuided by St John’s Academy’s Director of Drama and Theatre Studies, Cheri Whitehouse and teaching assistant Hoffi Munt, who both wrote the final script and directed the play, the students have devised a very striking, absorbing and thoughtful drama.

How much of this drama was down to the students? Cheri Whitehouse explains:  “Well, I had some core ideas and I knew where I wanted it to end up but basically, during the first rehearsal, I gave them the concept and asked them to imagine a world without oil, suggested that it would probably turn violent because of food shortages, and off they went!”

“Many of the scenes you saw were either completely devised by the students or the core of the scene was devised by them and then refined during scripting. They are very talented and it was a total collaboration.”

Starting with the assumption that the world as we know it ended in 2012 – no more oil, failing water supplies, constricted living space and no one growing food, where did their ideas go?  In this post doomsday world, the students’ drama follows a gang of survivors struggling in 2050 to sort out relationships, leadership and, indeed, how to go on surviving.

Violence rears its inevitable head. There are rivalries, incomers, and a threatening ‘compound’ of other survivors just across the forest. And there’s a brief and troubled love tangle between Cora and Joshua. The plot cleverly highlights and examines the moral dilemmas the gang face.

To lighten the load, there’s a thread of nostalgia for times past and tastes missed: “Nothing beats chocolate hob-nobs.”

And the angels? The ‘light’ (or good) angels are dressed in white, the ‘dark’ (or threatening) angels are in black.  They provide a very good device to ease the transition between a series of very short – almost television style – scenes. They act as supernatural stagehands to get the wounded on and off stage, and the dead bodies into the wings.

The scenes do follow each other very quickly, but there are well synchronised captions identifying the time and place of each scene.  To end the first act there was a really effective specially shot video - complete with final rifle shot - as Cora breaks into the compound in search of her missing parents.

The drama’s soundtrack came mainly from startlingly insistent drums – only changing as the final scenes unfolded into heart-rending strings.  

L to R: Tristan (Christopher Baker), his wounded sister Cora (Alex Watts) & Joshua (Henry Leigh)L to R: Tristan (Christopher Baker), his wounded sister Cora (Alex Watts) & Joshua (Henry Leigh)The second act was taken at a slower pace and was very moving. And by the end any fear that we would be left in some bleak dystopian future gave way to gentle optimism as the children who had joined the gang were taught how to plant seeds to provide food.

The script was sparse and clear. The acting was terrific. Alex Watts as Cora (“I know there’s a better way of living”) and Christopher Baker as Tristan – the main brother and sister adversaries – were outstanding.  As were Edd France as Jack – a very angry young man – and Maddie Blackwell as Amy his soundly moral but wavering sister.

If you had looked hard you could have found touches of Lord of the Flies, The Road, even perhaps the threatening mood ofThe Hunger Games, and touches of several paranormal, third age or ‘after-life’ movies – all softened by a little Romeo and Juliet.  But you didn’t look because the intensity of the plot, the words and the acting carried you along.

It was a hugely challenging drama, really well presented and acted.  A great achievement.

After curtain calls at the end of the second and final performance (February 22), a very grateful cast said tearful goodbyes to Cheri Whitehouse who is leaving St John’s.  That evening’s performance made it very obvious how much she will be missed.

Photos by Joanne Hutchings.

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