Professor Brian Cox review – science and hair combine in arena spectacular

First Direct Arena, Leeds
Universal: Adventures in Space and Time is a jaw-dropping reminder that human life is both irrelevant and hugely precious

There are loads of mind-boggling facts in Brian Cox’s two-and-a-half-hour arena show. That our nearest neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda, is 2.5m light years away. Or that super-massive black holes may be colliding as regularly as every couple of months. Cox’s story is almost sci-fi too. He was the keyboard player in 90s dance act D:Ream (whose song Things Can Only Get Better soundtracked Blair’s 1997 election campaign) before he did a PhD in high energy particle physics, got into TV and is now presenting what is essentially a university lecture with knobs on in venues more accustomed to Elton John. As Robin Ince – Cox’s comedian sidekick and co-host of Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage – puts it: “Isn’t it fantastic that on a Wednesday night people decide to not go to the pub and instead turn out to watch a flamboyant dandy particle physicist?”

It is pretty fantastic and while Cox has been criticised for monetising science, his significant achievement is to democratise it, making complex cosmology accessible to ordinary people. The flamboyant dandy stuff helps. His designer jacket buttoned just so, his teeth glistening like the stars behind him. His hair is so immaculate that one audience uses the Q&A to ask what conditioner he uses. Cox looks less like a scientist than a rock star (specifically Jeff Beck, with a hint of Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel) but this adds to his engaging body language, all: “Wow. And look at this!”

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