Review: Mayfest – The Nature of Why (Bristol Old Vic)


Never people to do things in half measures, Mayfest launch this year’s festival with a discourse, inspired by Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, on what could arguably be the world’s most frequently-asked question: Why?

It’s a good question. We’ve been asking it since we could form words. So much so, Feynman argues, that we almost take the answers for granted – because we all operate within our own framework of truth. Present the answers to those outside of that framework, and we stumble into a whole bunch of issues.

Underscoring The Nature of Why with words from Feynman himself keeps those assembled grounded. Taking the premise of a woman falling on ice and breaking her wrist, one starts with the question: Why did she fall? Once Feynman starts dissecting every possible combination of questions in his singular manner, this paves the way for an imagination explosion that is exploited to its full capacity in the most beautiful way possible.

Headed up by Charles Hazelwood, Will Gregory and choreographer and director Caroline Bowditch, a company of musicians and dancers explore the endless possibilities that a physical and musical language can present. This is no ordinary evening, however, of an audience in darkened stalls, an orchestra in the pit and a series of bodies on the stage. With The Nature of Why, the audience, orchestra and dancers are one, all sharing the same space, under the same lights.

Will Gregory’s score is positively operatic, moving hearts, minds and bodies through the power of the orchestra alone as it reverberates through the 250-year-old Bristol Old Vic. The orchestra itself is the Bristol-based British Paraorchestra, who, along with artistic director Charles Hazlewood, brings Gregory’s score to life with such depth and passion that it is impossible not to be moved by the sheer muscularity of the performance. With Caroline Bowditch’s glorious choreography, the company of dancers meld into the audience and reappear somewhere else on the stage, blurring boundaries as they draw you in.

You will be nudged, guided, dodged and, if you’re really lucky, embraced. The joy created by this remarkable company is second only to the joy felt by those lucky enough to see The Nature of Why. This isn’t a performance you simply see or hear. It’s one you feel.

Mayfest ’18 is go – and the bar is set high.

The Nature of Why continues at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday, May 12. For more info on this show and the rest of Mayfest 2018, visit


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