A day trip to Saturn - via Winchester

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A new theatre production at the Winchester Science Centre allows families to learn about the solar system.  David from travel blog site Venturing Near and Far reviews the latest attraction.

Winchester Science Centre at night

Ever thought about taking a trip to Saturn …. or elsewhere in the solar system come to that?

Now You Are Here!, a new collaborative show between the Planetarium and The Occasion theatre company at the Winchester Science Centre provides just that. Written by award winning scriptwriter, Andy Cannon and supported by the Arts Council and Airbus, this kind of collaboration is not known to have been tried before and has been almost two years in the making. It marks a different approach for a Planetarium show and helps the Centre to deliver on its commitment to making science accessible to all.

From an educational perspective, the half hour show is geared with Key Stage Two in mind, but it can be enjoyed by all ages to make it an excellent family show, with some jokes thrown in to appeal to the parents and perhaps their own childhood. There is a wider mixed media aspect to it as well. It succeeds in being both entertaining and educational.

The stage setting has simple props involving a telescope, a globe perched on a tripod, a stool and a lectern. The show begins with two tour guides, Michelle and Ann from WOW Tours, who soon get thrown into a panic when The Professor does not appear when due to give a talk. The Professor has gone missing somewhere among the stars after discovering “the most incredible, remarkable, mind-blowing thing in the universe.”

In the search to find what that might be and with the aid of an A-Z Universe, we travel through the solar system and experience close up visits to the icy rings of Saturn, Venus and the surface of Mars. Even the recent downgrading of Pluto to a dwarf planet gets a nod and a fly past. Along the way our tour guides provide basic knowledge about the stars and these celestial bodies.

This was an excellent show and introduces children to the wonders and scale of our solar system in an effective way. The ambitious production does a terrific job of integrating so much into the half hour, no mean feat indeed. There is traditional audience participation and at one point the performance draws upon contemporary texting! The children present seemed to have no trouble maintaining their concentration.

Accordingly it may seem churlish to identify where some enhancements could still be made. For instance, the soundtrack did not really add much to the story and could perhaps have added a bit more to the drama. It would have been clearer if the tour guides had used their pointer in the dome sky to help explain the Milky Way. Finally when returning to, and zooming in on Earth, an opportunity was missed to leave a message of how we need to take great care of our small and wondrous planet. However, these are minor points and do not detract from a half hour well spent in the company of the enthusiastic tour guides.

You Are Here! continues at the Winchester Science Centre until Sunday 4th November. Some days have two or three performances, click the link above to check the dates. If you can’t catch it this autumn, it returns to the Science Centre from 13-24 February 2019 which will also provide opportunities for school classes to attend as well as regular family visits.

All you now need to do is put on your spacesuits. Let your countdown begin!

David was a guest at Winchester Science Centre’s Press Preview Show. Follow David’s travels at Venturing Near & Far.