The Theory of Relativity is a Zenith Youth Theatre Company musical show. Zenith does not appear to be a church or school group; we might see that in the topics touched on in the performance and how those topics are treated. One of the scenes in the compilation is about two young men coming to terms and accepting their homosexuality.
Songs about acceptance and inclusion are most welcome. The other thing worth knowing about Zenith is that they used to be known as Blodlets. I prefer the old brand, which hales from being the junior section of the Bath Operatic and Dramatic Society.
The performers in Zenith are young. They started the show in school uniform, and I wondered, for at least a minute, whether it was theirs and if this was all going to be a branding exercise by the school. Working in marketing for decades has corrupted my thought processes.
The artists formerly known as Bodlets are dramatic too. The Theory of Relativity isn’t a performance about science. It’s about people. People are messy.
We get pi to six decimal places, and we get samples of the sort of exam question school kids might get asked about the actual Theory of Relativity. We don’t get answers.
Instead, we get a small troupe of young actors who play differing roles in several set pieces about life’s challenges and rewards (especially for young people – nothing about making your retirement plan work here!). We might even learn that what we get from life is relative to what we put into it, coping when something we can’t control happens and getting along with our emotions.
It works well, by and large, with a good story and song, except for the ambitious last piece. The “I-I-I” song needs more practice or re-arranging because, to my ears, the overlapping “I’s” compete and clash.
What to expect
At TheSpace, the venue is clean and tidy, but the theatre does not have much in the way of stacked chairs, and there’s not much space. The troupe weave and perform in a small area with grace, however.
There are some set-piece songs with everyone on stage, but for the most part, there are two, three and sometimes more people singing their way through a modern parable.
For example, there’s one about a popular girl adopting an unpopular one as her best friend, partly because it makes her look good. Is she the villain?
For example, there’s another being loyal to a bad influence of a boyfriend despite friends and family urging the lead character to leave the relationship. Does it work out?
These are weighty issues, treated well, go beyond the surface, don’t preach but do use carefully selected words at times. That might be because it’s a 12+ show, but the word choice was one of the reasons why I tried to work out whether there was some religious funding behind the scenes. If not, Zenith has done well to get important discussion topics into the show and has been cautious. If no one other than the actors had food for thought, I’d still consider the play to be a success, although I think it achieves far more than that.
Vibe and Performance
During the show, very quickly, I was confident I was not watching a school play — despite how young everyone looked in their school uniform! The talent and skill promptly stood out.
My thoughts went something like, “Oh, she can actually sing.” and then, “So can he,” then, “And those two, too…” I can be slow on the uptake, but I got there quickly.
That’s thumbs up for the performance, although some of the scenes were better than others, and that last grand finale, the “I-I-I” song, was at least a couple of tiers lower than the very best of the rest.
Of all the shows I’ve seen at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2023, so far at least, I got more vibe from the talent on stage from their interaction with one other than from the impact of their performance on the audience. We sat in relative silence and watched. That’s a bit cruel to the performers, but I hope and think it didn’t matter this time.
It was a nine am-something kick-off on my sixth 20-hour day, and I had no energy, but the team performing did. Each glance, grin, go-back-and-get-the-chair-prop, or happy and tired flash of the eye made a difference. The little troupe of up-and-coming performers was felt and made a difference.
The Theory of Relativity is a musical about school life, growing up, and how we must cope. I think the lesson if lesson is the right word, is that it’s all relative. What happens to us is sometimes about us, sometimes about what other people do, and a bit of empathy is good.
Tricky topics are treated with brave small-c conservative terms but tackled fairly and with equality and diversity in mind. It was an all-white cast, though.
I’d see Zenith again.
A review of The Theory of Relativity