Review: The Professor at the Assembly Rooms

Something’s gone awry with today’s lecture. We’ve turned up at the right room and it’s the same lecturer we’ve had all year. He even tells us how much he’s loved teaching us. But every time he launches into the lesson, he changes tack. In place of the scheduled session, he explains, he’s going to skim over the whole course – a kind of greatest hits for a man, as it transpires, who’s on his way out.

And so, in the latest Brian Parks play for Americana Absurdum, performed with customary polish by David Calvitto, this tweed-and-corduroy teacher shares his wisdom about maths, literature, poetry and dance. Well, “wisdom” is one word for it; every foray into a new subject starts off with recognisable nuggets of knowledge before spinning off into highly partial accounts of the academic field. Perhaps you’d call it fake news.

This professor has a tendency to attribute personal motivations to history’s innovators, speculative details he shares with the certainty of fact. He claims Charles Babbage, inventor of the computer, bequeathed a brain to posterity that was not only full of clever scientific intuition but also burdened with lost loves and bitter regrets. Pythagoras, allegedly, would have been infuriated by being made obsolete by modern technology, while ancient scribes would curse the letter S when written as an F. According to this dramatic expert, the only sure way to recognise the genius of a great actor is the quantity of spit that leaves their mouth.

The further he continues down his wayward route, the less reliable he becomes. He writes off dance as an artform, sings the praises of the humble page number and celebrates the greatest technique of poetry: “No one ever killed themselves after writing a good rhyme.” Soon he’s describing a trip to Paris where a scatological turn of events reveals the secret of the Mona Lisa’s smile.

Although sporadically funny, the script has little of Parks’s usual bite and is neither as surreal nor as silly as it promises to be. It dazzles with its wit more than it makes you laugh.

The Professor, Assembly Rooms, 1-25 Aug, 3.20pm

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