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24:7 Reviews: The Transit of Venus

Joan Davies goes back in time with writer Eric Northey

Published on July 24th 2012.

24:7 Reviews: The Transit of Venus

YOU might not expect a play about astronomical measurement to be particularly entertaining.  This one is.  It’s fresh, vibrant and educational, thanks to some careful research, lively writing, sensitive performances and sharp direction.  

A strong cast, tight direction by Alyx Tole, and  a simple set support careful and detailed writing to provide an entertaining account.

A transit of Venus, when the planet comes between Earth and the Sun,  is rare.  You may have seen it in June this year - if not you’ve got 105 years to wait for the next.  

It was first properly observed in 1639 by Jeremiah Horrocks from Toxteth and William Crabtree from Salford.  Their work made it possible to calculate the size of the Sun, the size of Venus and, most importantly, the distance of Earth from the Sun: the basis of all astronomical measurement.  An early Manchester scientific success.  

Writer Eric Northey expands the tale to give us a picture of the time: conflicts between King and Parliament, Catholics and Protestants, High Church and Puritans. 

A little knowledge of these is helpful in following the play. No knowledge of astronomy is required though as the Transit of Venus is clearly and entertainingly explained as Jeremiah and Lucy, Crabtree's educated daughter, circle the table, at the start of a delightfully scripted burgeoning romance, played with delicacy and flair by Nathan Morris and Lucy Ward.  

For Horrocks the delights of astronomy stem from uncovering the truths of mathematics: the only truths which can match the truth of scripture.  Nathan Morris catches the contradictions, the drive and the magnetism of a young man driven to discovery yet tied to unswerving belief.  The older, and probably wiser Crabtree is played by John McElhatton with a quieter determination, a belief in rationality, evidence, and a hope of progress: a sort of early Atticus Finch. 

A strong cast, tight direction by Alyx Tole, and  a simple set which allows a washing line a role as a reminder of the constraints on women's freedoms, support careful and detailed writing to provide an entertaining account of the events now remembered on one of the Town Hall's Ford Maddox Brown's murals (main picture here) and a Salford plaque. 

The 24:7 Theatre Festival runs from 20 - 27 July. More than 70 performances will take place over eight Festival days in New Century House – head office of The Co-operative – and Three Minute Theatre, in Affleck’s Palace.  Find more information, show times and how to book tickets (£8 / £6) at: www.247theatrefestival.co.uk

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Bob the BritJuly 25th 2012.

I agree whole-heartedly; I watched this on Tuesday evening and found it a charming and fascinating diversion, well written, tightly directed and with sympathetic performances by all concerned.

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