The Two Cultures

Thu 17th – Sat 19th Nov 2011


“"You said that art critics take all the beauty out of art, that they miss the point. Well, scientists are the art critics of reality."”






DEM Productions


"You said that art critics take all the beauty out of art, that they miss the point. Well, scientists are the art critics of reality."

Rosie paints. She likes Dali, monochrome paintings and the abstract movement.

James is a physicist. He likes Feynman, quantum mechanics and Bose-Einstein condensates.

One day Rosie and James meet.

They talk and argue. Compare, Implore. James is all "Look at the particles and equations and mathematics," Rosie's all scared, "You're taking it away, the beauty, the mystery, the art".

And there are the friends.

Laura wants to discuss Dali. William wants to stargaze.

DEM Productions presents a new play by David Kell. Inspired by the 1959 lecture by CP Snow, 'The Two Cultures' asks the question:

"Can the arts and sciences,

on some level,


Or is the divide unassailable?"


OTR Backstage, by May Anderson

The seed of the play’s idea came to him whilst doing his mainly science-based A levels, sitting on a bus on the way to performance of Twelfth Night in Stratford he had a realisation that there’s a lot about physics that was really quite stunning. Now, it might be difficult for my fellow humanities students to grasp, as it certainly was for me, but Kell wants us to appreciate that the second law of thermodynamics is just as culturally important as the works of Shakespeare. And Kell doesn’t just mean important in terms of utility to human culture but in its mystery, in its creativity and in its beauty. As an undergraduate reading philosophy and physics, Kell traverses the cultural gap that divides the two disciplines but he has come to the realisation that the ascendant position of literary culture over scientific culture is a wrong that needs to be corrected. He seems exasperated by the notion that for many people ‘literary culture is the whole of culture.’

Inspired by the seminal lecture by C.P. Snow ‘The Two Cultures’ of which the play borrows its title, Kell dramatises the vast void between the literary and scientific in his protagonists. Portraying the relationship between a painter and a physicist, the play argues that both modes of culture seek the same things but are hampered by the deep intellectual schism that separates the two fields. Together his characters explore the parallels of the arts and sciences but we are also shown their unwillingness to see eye to eye and the flaws that characterise the interaction between these two cultures.

Einstein was not known as the world’s greatest scientist because of his rational and logical intellect, Kell tells me, but rather his profound creativity. The purpose of the play then is not to only lament the gap between the arts and sciences but to posit the potential that greater symbiosis between the two could yield. Certainly in the past literary culture has imbibed the influence of the great scientific discoveries of the age. The Victorian literary imagination was re-invigorated by Darwin’s theories and one cannot confront the pathos of Thomas Hardy or George Eliot without reference to the de-centring effects that contemporary science had on the elevated status of man in the universe. But modern scientific culture seems to barely make an impact on the literary world. For C.P Snow to ask a group of scientists whether they understand mass or acceleration was the equivalent of asking a literary academic whether he could read, yet a quick poll amongst my largely humanities-drawn social circle demonstrates that we’re barely more scientifically literate than a toddler.

For Kell the reconciliation of the two has the potential to enhance the resourcefulness and inventiveness of both disciplines, if only one culture they can learn to appreciate the other. On leaving the interview I have an urge to understand the discipline that I can barely fathom the basics of. Hopefully watching the play will get me a little closer to understanding how physics can be beautiful.


19:30, Thursday-Saturday of 6th Week, 17th-19th November

The Michael Pilch Studio, Jowett Walk

Admission £5 - email to reserve tickets as space is limited.

Admission: £5

The Michael Pilch Studio

City map


Version 0.3.7a