Zombie Science IZ : A spoof lecture on the undead
9th and 10th April, Scottish Storytelling Centre
By Freda O’ Byrne
Supported by the Wellcome Trust and developed in partnership with Dr Kevin O’Dell and Dr Katie White of Glasgow University, Time-Tastical’s most excellent lecture sets out to explain how a Zombie outbreak might occur, its effect on humans and, most importantly, how to stop it.
Delivered by Dr Austin (Austin Low), Scotland’s leading expert in Zombieism and Head of the Zombie Institute of Theoretical Studies (ZITS), the lecture features a multi-media presentation, live demonstrations involving (sometimes hilarious) audience participation, a polished patter worthy of any stand up comedian and a finely tuned sense of the ridiculous.
The show is divided into three ‘modules’; the first plunders the audience’s collective knowledge of Undead literature, films and video games to establish the symptoms normally associated with fictional Zombieism. Dr Austin then leads the audience in a process of scientific elimination – which of these conditions are untrue and which can we accept as signifiers of the Zombie condition?
The second looks at both factual and fictional causes of Zombieism and links the notion of an infected person becoming a host, to the science behind prion diseases – a group of progressive conditions that affect the nervous system in humans and animals.
The final ‘module’ explores ways of preventing and curing Zombieism. Initially by exploring a melee fighting approach involving blunt weapons, then by moving on to a more sophisticated strategy involving projectiles and finally, (science here again) to the use of modified viruses to transport genetic material into diseased cells.
And it is here that there is some doubt about how much learning about the science behind the show is achieved. Lost amidst laughter the main point – that viruses may be used to carry modified genetic material into the cells of an infected body to cure it of disease – needed to be more strongly made if the aim is to educate young audiences about the science behind gene therapy. This is to some extent ameliorated by the excellent programme which is presented in the form of suitably stained and spattered “Course Notes” and includes a course outline with illustrations of the main points.
The show is superbly entertaining. Dr Austin is quirky and engaging, a delicate mixture of innocence and darker undertones and his lecture is in fact a highly accomplished and polished stand up comedy routine.