Hanging Hooke - a solo play about Robert Hooke

Written and directed by Siobhán Nicholas
Performed by Chris Barnes
Dramaturg and associate director Annie Castledine
Designed by Lizzie Wyllie and Gus Munro

Our mentors were
Joanna Corden, Royal Society archivist; Victoria Gould, Physicist; John Meaney, Physicist.

Our funders were
Arts Council England - Grants for the Arts.

Our co producers were Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, New Vic Workshop and Eastbourne Theatres. 

Background to the play

Was Robert Hooke [1635 to 1703] our English Leonardo?

Like Da Vinci he was a fine artist, an accomplished architect and engineer; he even designed a prototype flying machine. Moreover for over twenty years as Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society, he poured out a stream of brilliant concepts on [amongst others] universal gravity, evolution of species and atomic theory … he even anticipated the modern wave theory. Robert Hooke was one of the fathers of modern science and yet after his death, he was quite comprehensively written out of history; most scientists today only know of him for Hooke’s Law and the rest of us … not at all!!

I came across this shadowy energetic genius quite accidentally and in the autumn of 2005, I decided - with trepidation - to write this play. Then serendipity, or was it Fate, struck: in January 2006: a man from Bonhams had been called to a Hampshire country house to make a valuation of various artefacts. Business completed, he was literally putting on his coat at the door when the owner of the residence casually handed him a bound copy of five hundred fragile papers that had apparently lain in a cupboard for some time. The manuscript was soon recognised to be the long lost notes of Robert Hooke {the owner of that house - to this day - remains anonymous!

The auction took place on March 28th 2006. I was there. At least three overseas collectors were represented that day and Bonhams expected bids to go well over four million. Many feared that Robert Hooke's Folio would disappear from English history again. So yes, when the news finally came, I was amongst those who cheered out loud and clapped.

The Story

Christopher Wren loved him. Isaac Newton loathed him. Robert Hooke was a fine artist, brilliant scientist, extraordinary engineer and an accomplished architect; he played a prominent part in the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, including the construction of St Paul's, the City churches, The Monument and some believe - the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.   Lisa Jardine described him as "the man who measured London".

Yet after his death, England’s Leonardo was written out of History; strangely even his portraitdisappeared. Had this ingenious man been buried by another Da Vinci plot?

Then mysteriously in 2006, three hundred years after his death, a dusty old manuscript was unearthed in a cupboard in a Hampshire country house.....Robert Hooke’s time had finally come!

This tale of celebrity, secrecy and betrayal explores the captivating C17th world of new science and discovery.  

What people have said about  Hanging Hooke

Plays International – South East Round Up (Spring Edition)
Reviewer: Jeremy Malies

Eastbourne theatre-goers had a different experience at the Winter Garden with Siobhán Nicholas’ Hanging Hooke which concerns the polymath Robert Hooke (1635-1703), regarded by many as the English Leonardo. A prodigy, he was making serious speculations about evolution in his early teens while observing fossils on the Isle of Wight. He would go on to propose the inverse square law for gravity and be treated shamefully by his contemporary Isaac Newton. 

Read more of Jeremy Malies' review of Hanging Hooke

Daily Info, Oxford Playhouse - Burton Taylor Studio
Reviewer: Andrea Hopkins 14/03/08  

This is an enthralling piece of theatre for two reasons. One, the subject matter is absolutely riveting – it tells the story of (almost) forgotten genius Robert Hooke, a polymath who included draughtsmanship, architecture, engineering, mathematics, and the emerging study of “natural philosophy” among the many interests and activities at which he excelled...

Read more of Andrea Hopkin's review of Hanging Hooke

British Theatre Guide - The Mill Studio at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Reviewer: Sheila Connor

In seventeenth century England there lived a man, one Robert Hooke, a contemporary of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren and undoubtedly a genius to rival Leonardo da Vinci, yet he has been almost written out of history and forgotten - until now. This is his story.

The performer (Chris Barnes) stands motionless and listening as the voice of an auctioneer booms through the room describing a manuscript, the folio of Robert Hooke, for sale but with a reserve of one million pounds. Then, switching back in time, the play begins.

Read more of Sheila Connor's review of Hanging Hooke

Eastbourne Herald - "Spell-binding Hanging Hooke"
Reviewer: Roger Paine

IT IS DIFFICULT to conclude which was the more enthralling.  The life and times of Robert Hooke, 17th century inventor, microscopist, physicist, surveyor, astronomer, linguist, biologist, musician and artist who is the subject of this play written by Siobhan Nicholas, the fourth in the New Vic Workshop's Solo Season, or the riveting portrayal of this forgotten polymath by Chris Barnes, who also co-directed the play with Siobhan.

Read more of Roger Paine's review of Hanging Hooke

Bournemouth Echo - The Lighthouse Poole
Reviewer: Jeremy Miles

In his day he was known as the English Leonardo. Robert Hooke was a home-grown genius who, in the late 17th century, briefly dazzled London’s scientific elite.
Christopher Wren was in awe of him but switched allegiance when rising star Isaac Newton made it clear that HE was the main man at the Royal Society.

Read more of Jeremy Miles review of Hanging Hooke  

Theatre in Wales {online} - Clwyd Theatr Cymry Mold, October 16, 2010
Reviewer: Victor Hallet

Robert Hooke was the renaissance man who provided Newton with crucial information about gravity, coined the word cell in biology, had some inkling of evolution, helped Wren design St Paul's and planned the Monument as a telescope.

Read more of Victor Hallet's review of Hanging Hooke

...an inspired performance to complement some exceptional writing…..I would urge everyone to see this play: .... exquisitely written and performed, and a tribute to the man who inspired it all...”
— British Theatre Guide
Chris Barnes as Robert Hooke

Chris Barnes as Robert Hooke

Hanging Hooke has played at...

The Mill Studio at Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Chichester Festival Theatre
(Minerva Theatre, Chichester, PO19 6AP)
The Rose Theatre,
(Kingston KT1 1HL)
One Culture Festival of Literature and the Arts
(The Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y)
Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre
Burton Taylor Studio at Oxford Playhouse
(Gloucester St, Oxford. OX1 2BN)
Ustinov Studio)
Theatre Royal Bath
(Stephen Joseph Theatre, Westborough, Scarborough YO11 1JW)
Clwyd Theatr Cymru,
(Mold, Flintshire Wales)
The Unity Theatre
(Liverpool  L1 9BG)
B2 Belgrade Theatre
(Belgrade Square, Coventry CV1 1GS)
Greenwich Theatre
(Crooms Hill, London SE10 8ES)
The Studio
(York Theatre Royal, York, YO1 7HD)
The Everyman Studio Theatre (Cheltenham)
Ellen Terry’s Barn Theatre
(Smallhythe Place, Tenterden, Kent) 
The Space An Táin at the Town Hall
Dundalk, Co Louth, Ireland)
The Playhouse
Derry, Northern Ireland
Ondaatje Wing Theatre
(National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London)
The Worshipful Company of Actuaries at Staple Inn Hall
(High Holborn, London WC1V 7QJ)
The Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers at The Glaziers Hall  (London SE1 9DD)
Gravity Fields Festival
(Ballroom, Guildhall Arts Centre, Grantham)
Norden Farm Centre for the Arts
St John's Chapel
(St John's St, Chichester PO19 1UR)
The Performing Arts Centre at St John's International School
(Waterloo, Belgium)
The Memo Festival
(Portland School, Portland, Devon)
The Stahl Theatre
(Oundle School, Oundle)
Christs Hospital School Theatre (Horsham)
Roedean School
Taunton School
(Taunton, Somerset)
Brighton College
(Montague Studio, Brighton BN2 OAL)
The Hat Factory
Quay Arts
(Newport, Isle of Wight)
Astor Community Theatre
(Stanhope Rd, Deal, Kent, CT14 6AB)
Cramphorn Theatre
(Chelmsford, CM1 1JG)
The Hawth Theatre Studio
Crawley, West Sussex

Astrological instruments

Tour Package
for Hanging Hooke

This production has been devised to accommodate any stage or space from tiny studio or church hall to the mid scale and up to the larger classic proscenium arch  

Marketing Support: A6 or A5 fliers, A3 Posters

Totally Flexible Staging: quick get in with small set/no flats

Tech Requirements: High production values but minimal lighting is possible. Sound on cd or mini disc

Fee: our absolute minimum fee for one performance is £700.  For each venue we also have to factor in travel and distance travelled along with any overnight costs.

Outreach Work Available: Workshops and Post Show Discussions. Please see our resources page

Cancellation fees: will be requested only after dates and fees have been confirmed and when the company deems that valuable time has already been invested in the set up