An Experiment With An Air Pump

This play by Shelagh Stephenson was performed by the Roan Theatre Company in South London. It was inspired by the painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, and moves between two time periods, 1799 and 1999, in the same house. In 1799, scientist Joseph Fenwick is performing experiments in a large household including his wife, two daughters and a particularly intelligent servant, while in 1999, scientist Ellen is faced with selling the house she loves unless she takes a lucrative job with controversial ethics. Then her husband finds a skeleton in the basement.

Plot-wise, An Experiment With An Air Pump is not unlike Kate Atkinson’s Abandonment (Stephenson’s play came first). It is gripping, intelligent and witty, with a genuine mystery to try and unravel. I enjoyed the play and the performances, and I’d definitely like to see more by this playwright in the future.

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