It Is Rocket Science! is a low budget, highly subjective look at the history and future of space travel...
It was my first solo show, my 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival debut and my first BBC Radio 4 series. The radio show won the WISE Media award in 2013, was nominated for the Writers' Guild Award for Best Radio Comedy in 2014 and the Association of British Science Writers' Royal Society Radio Prize in 2015.
"It is Rocket Science! embodies all the best things about intellectual comedy. Smart without being elitist, and with just the right amounts of sincerity and sarcasm from its host, this should hopefully be the first of many delightful fringe offerings from the talented Keen"
"A jolly hour of geeky fun, part way between the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, QI, Blue Peter and some dodgy Sixties Czechoslovakian children's animation... it is, aptly enough, a blast."
In spite of having one lone audience member for its first performance, It Is Rocket Science! went on to be a bit of a surprise sleeper hit at the Fringe - The Guardian called it "an overlooked gem". The BBC very quickly decided to turn it into a series for Radio 4, which Miriam Underhill and I then wrote very slowly...
The premise of the radio show is that, lacking a big budget, I’ve built my own narrator - The Voice of Space - a ‘super computer’ (made from an unlikely combination of part of a ZX Spectrum and various bits of broken kitchen equipment, and somehow imbued with the infallible wisdom of great space show presenters like Brian Cox, Patrick Moore, and Carl Sagan (in a mysterious manner which echoes Weird Science)) to help me tell the story of space flight and recreate the voices of various characters. The Voice of Space is a sort of wonky but affectionate tribute to the space broadcasters I admire – especially the unique vocal stylings of Carl Sagan - his pronunciation of Cosmos definitely inspired Oooniverse…
The first episode of the four-part series was broadcast on 9th March 2011. It starred Peter Serafinowicz as The Voice of Space alongside Susy Kane and me, and was produced by Gareth Edwards.
Press about the radio show:
"A pithy sweet programme... with a joke-stuffed script"
(Miranda Sawyer in The Observer)
“Quirky, offbeat and original, this four-part history of space travel and rocketry adroitly blends comedy and science... Helen Keen is clearly someone to watch”
(The Sunday Times)
"Shamelessly nerdy... deeply silly"
('Radio's Five of the Best' - Radio Times)
* * * * “Informed, enthusiastic and funny”
“Irreverent comedy and aerospace engineering don’t seem an obvious fit, but It Is Rocket Science! proves that fact-based boffin buffoonery works”
The show also returned to The Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh in 2010 in slightly revised form as It Is Rocket Science V2.
"Startlingly fine entertainment throughout... crisp, sophisticated comedy"
* * * * * “It's a spellbinding hour. Her passion for the subject is genuine and she has an uncanny ability to turn obscure details into hilarious anecdotes.”
* * * * ½ “I completely loved this studious show"
* * * * "From the beginning she has the audience enthralled."
"The loveliest thing about fringe festivals is when you discover a truly great new act that, if there’s any justice in the world, is going to be huge in a few years."
* * * * “This show was of such a high standard I would be hard pushed to find a show I have been as fully engaged with and liked as much as this one. You come to the fringe to get entertained and there are hundreds and thousands of shows out there to pick from, what Helen Keen does is become your space obsessed, stamp collecting best friend, she’s honest, smart and funny. A 1st class performance.”
(The New Current)
* * * * "Wonderful imagination... it's charming, interesting, funny and one of the most original shows on the Fringe"
* * * * "Packed with gags, silliness and science... a fun, fast-paced, gag-filled show"
* * * * "Refreshingly different... skilful knowledge of visual humour."
Winner - Best Individual Comedy Performance, Buxton Fringe Festival 2008
The Times Arts Editor's Pick of the Week July 2010
Since 2008 It Is Rocket Science! has been in demand as a successful independent touring show frequently selling out live performances at all sorts of science, music and arts festivals across the UK, including:
Bright Club Stars at the Bloomsbury Theatre*
The Astronomers' Ball at the Royal Greenwich Observatory*
The Boring Conference*
Guest slots on Uncaged Monkeys (The Infinite Monkey Cage tour with Brian Cox, Ben Goldacre, Robin Ince and Simon Singh)*
Question. Explore. Discover.* (Science and Scepticism conference)
Wrexham Science Festival
Newcastle Science Festival
Edinburgh Science Festival
Brighton Fringe Festival
School For Gifted Children - Space Special*
School For Gifted Children - E4 Udderbelly South Bank Festival*
Henley Fringe Festival
Buxton Fringe Festival
The Secret Garden Party
Camden Fringe Festival
Robin Ince's Carl Sagan Is Still My God*
Techfest - Aberdeen Science Festival
Fortean Times UnConvention
Otley Science Festival
University of Cork - 2 shows funded by Institute of Physics
Skeptics in the Pub - Christmas show*
Science Museum - Members' Event
Leicester Comedy Festival - performance at the Leicester Space Centre
Brighton Science Festival
York Science Festival
Newcastle Science Festival
Cambridge Science Festival
Science Museum Space Galleries - Event celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Moon Landing
Latitude Festival (with Guerilla Science)
Standon Calling (Music Festival)
Robin Ince's We Love Science*
Manchester Science Festival
The Amaz!ng Meeting London*
Robin Ince's Night of 400 Billion Stars*
Leicester Comedy Festival
London Event to celebrate Yuri's Night (funded by Institute of Physics)
Buxton Fringe Festival (Winner - Buxton Fringe Award for Best Comedy Performance)
Science Museum Dana Centre (followed by Q&A featuring ex-NASA Astrophysicist Dr Sophia Khan)
Click here for more press about the show.
In 2010 I also performed with the excellent real-life rocket scientist Dr Sophia Khan (at NASA she discovered three galaxies!) as part of a Free Fringe show called Starstruck! Click here to go to the Starstruck! webpage.
Recording It Is Rocket Science! at the BBC Radio Theatre
Photo by Michael Reeve