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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Treading the boards

Hanging Hooke
Staple Inn — February 2010

Actuaries and their guests enjoyed a unique and marvellous experience in February, when the newly refurbished Staple Inn was transformed into a theatre set. Those of us used to sitting through dry actuarial discussions delighted in seeing our hall come alive for a production of Siobhán Nicholas’s Hanging Hooke.

This magical play is all about the polymath Robert Hooke (1635-1703), regarded by many as the English Leonardo da Vinci. I confess, to my shame, that before I discovered this play my only knowledge of Robert Hooke and his contribution to the history of science and discovery was Hooke’s Law on the elasticity of springs, which I learnt for my A-level Physics. I had therefore dismissed Hooke as a very minor character. How wrong could I be?

Like da Vinci, Hooke was a fine artist, an accomplished architect and an engineer; he even designed a prototype flying machine. He was a founder member of the Royal Society (which is celebrating its 350th anniversary in 2010) and, for 20 years as their curator of experiments, he poured out a stream of brilliant concepts, including a universal law of gravity (just one area where Hooke was shamefully treated by his contemporary, Isaac Newton), evolution of species and atomic theory — he even anticipated modern wave theory.

It was Hooke that coined the term ‘cell’ for biological organisms. He also worked closely with his good friend Christopher Wren on St Paul’s Cathedral and the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. This man was truly one of our greatest ever Britons and yet I knew so little about him. Hanging Hooke was to change all that.

This one-man play, performed by the hugely impressive Chris Barnes, was a tour de force — simultaneously gripping in its story-telling and fascinating for its historical insight on the shadowy energetic genius, Robert Hooke. The audience was transported back to 17th century England for a tale of scientific discovery, intrigue and betrayal. We discovered just a few of the reasons why Hooke has been called the English Leonardo but, along the way, we were also deeply moved by a powerful human story, reaching a triumphant climax in modern-day London.

Not only was the acting first rate, but the writing was beautiful and captivating, effortlessly pulling together a huge story, set across the history of science (treating us to fragments of fascinating scientific insight) with the human story of a scientist betrayed.

The play, which was presented by the theatre company, Take the Space, in conjunction with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, was put on by the Worshipful Company of Actuaries as a fund-raising event, very appropriately, for its joint educational project with the Royal Society.
Review by Charles Cowling


Recommended play
The Power of Yes
In the heart of the financial crisis, the National Theatre commissioned playwright David Hare to write a play that sought to explain why it all happened. With limited time Hare interviewed a wide range of finance professionals and turned this into a thought-provoking drama. Playing on London’s South Bank until the end of April.


Art by an actuary
Where actuaries dare
Michael Hall, a student actuary at Alexander Forbes whose dramatic exploits have previously appeared in these pages (see www.the-actuary.org.uk/703375) has successfully boiled down the epic war film Where Eagles Dare into a mere 60 seconds with a combination of a few jokes, two guns, one German helmet and a Ford Fiesta. The short film has been selected as a finalist in Empire film magazine’s ‘Done in 60 Seconds’ competition. You can view Michael’s efforts at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMxxhE1gQ6M


Snaps with GAAPS
Remember to keep your entries coming for our photo competition. The closing date is 9 April. Full entry details can be found at www.the-actuary.org.uk/872865.