Blinded by the Sun by Stephen Poliakoff

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BBC Radio 4, 8 March 2008

Ovidian themes were central to Stephen Poliakoff’s Blinded by the Sun, directed by Peter Leslie Wild. The rise to power of Albie (Alex Jennings), a relatively ungifted, administratively efficient member of the department upsets the cosy traditional work practices of the rest of the staff and provides the motor for the action of the play. Along the way there is an important scientific discovery which turns out to be a hoax. Poliakoff satirizes popular science and we are invited to ponder the mystical nature of the creative process, and the futile desires of human beings to understand what it involves. Like Icarus, we often fly too close to the sun.

Poliakoff often shines a light, be it at times only a dim one, on contentious contemporary topics. The conflict between academia and the free market priorities which govern its practices today is certainly one of these. But ultimately the play is less than illuminating. A major flaw centres on the character of Albie. The author confuses cost cutting, job slashing Thatcherism in the colleges with the popularizing of science. Al reorganises the science department, sacking his old teacher Elinor (Harriet Walter) along the way, uncovers fraud and writes popular books which bring complex ideas to a mass audience. Focusing all three of these largely unconnected themes in the personality of one character fatally muddles consideration of each.

Maybe there was a scientific fraud perpetrated in the play, maybe there wasn't, the author clumsily suggested in the production’s dying minutes. Can we actually know? Does it really matter? Blinded By the Sun offers a forum to pontificate about how mysterious and unknowable all the world ­- even science -­ is. But as a piece of drama it tended to pall.