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The Lady
Ms London

It isn't often that science and art are linked together and very seldom are they are linked together so dramatically as in the case of Professor Jack Warrant's new book about the origins of the universe. Yet Professor Warrant's startling new theories about the beginning of things are based, in outline, on his theatre-going experiences.

Even during his early scientific training, Warrant was mad about the theatre, and always went there after studies. Unfortunately, it cost a lot of money to get into the theatre and he was not able to afford to go very often. However, he discovered a very interesting thing about theatres; during the intervals many theatre-goers leave their seats and go wandering around the theatre to have a drink or look at their fellow theatre-goers or even go outside to get a breath of fresh air, and when they go back to their seat they are not requested to show their tickets again. What this means is that if you are casual about it, you can get into a theatre after the first act without ever paying, as long as there are empty seats to be filled.

From that moment on, Jack started slipping into unoccupied seats in the auditorium during every interval he could manage, which meant that within a short space of time he became an expert on the second and third acts of most known plays. He knew everything about the end of everything. By the time he was sixteen or seventeen he knew the interiors of all the main London theatres. He knew that a play which is "sold out" usually has empty seats somewhere. He knew exactly which seats were most unlikely to be occupied (either the very expensive or very cheap ones) and he knew how to get away with the embarrassment of turning up as a member of an audience long after the audience's final numbers seemed to have been settled.

By the end of his teens Jack was an expert on denouement. It was nouement he knew nothing about. (Jack had once looked up denouement in a French dictionary and found it meant "unknotting"or"unravelling", and therefore he supposed that the opposite must be the word which meant knotting, which was "nouement".) However, he quickly became the world's leading expert in deducing from the second half of a play what must have happened in the first half.

"It isn't half as hard as you might think," he said. "You don't have to be a genius to come in halfway through Macbeth or Hamlet and work out that one has just become an expert in assassination and the other a victim of it. You don't have to see the three witches first time round to understand what they are up to. And you would be surprised how many references there are to what has already happened, almost as if playwrights like Shakespeare deliberately threw in reminders of the previous action for the benefit of latecomers, a bit like the way they do in the Archers."
There came a time when Jack completed his studies and started earning money as a scientist, and found himself at last able to afford to go to the theatre and see the first acts of many plays he had only, previously, seen the last two-thirds of. It was an eye-opener.

"But not in the way you might think. You might think that suddenly curtains were opened, secrets unlocked, mysteries made clear. Not at all. I made one or two incidental discoveries, such as that the first acts of tragedies are often very cheerful affairs. I hadn't expected that. But what was interesting was that, because I always went to the theatre knowing that important things had already happened before I got there and knowing I would have to guess what they were, I still maintained this attitude even when I started buying a ticket and arriving for the curtain-up. In other words, I wanted to know what had happened before Act I of Macbeth, because I was now temperamentally convinced there was a missing act before Act I of Macbeth!"

The concept of there being a missing act before the beginning of Macbeth does not accord with the way the theatre works. A play has to assume that, although things have happened before it started and other things will go on after it has finished, that the play itself contains all you need to know.

"Quite by accident," says Jack Warrant, "I broke through that barrier. All because I had sneaked in without paying, I became the first play-goer who wanted to know about the missing first act. And then as a scientist I started asking the same questions. I started wanting to know: What happened before the universe began? And the answers I came up with were quite astonishing."

Starting tomorrow - exclusive serialisation of Professor Jack Warrant's sensational new best-seller: "The Universe - Order Your Drinks Now for The Interval!"


Independent Sep 24 1994