Crawley: Reassessing Hooke

Hanging Hooke looks again at a man unjustifiably overlooked by history (The Hawth Studio, Crawley, Thursday, November 27, 7.45pm).

Siobhán Nicholas, who has written and directs the piece, unhesitatingly labels Robert Hooke (1635–1703) the English Leonardo. And yet he remains a name known to few...

He was certainly a discovery to Siobhán: “It goes back to 2005. I was at a party and this chap that I had never met before heard that I was doing a play about Samuel Pepys’ wife. He said ‘If you are interested in the 17th century, I have got a wonderful book for you.’

“He raced home in the rain to go and get it. I thought to myself ‘I so don’t want another book about the 17th century!’ I was really full up with it. I thought I would sift through the book, be polite and give it back to him the next day. It turned out I didn’t give it back to him for three years!

“Right on the first page I had a funny moment. It was a book called The Man Who Knew Too Much. It was a biography of Robert Hooke.”

And, appropriately enough, Siobhán was hooked.

“Robert Hooke was our Leonardo da Vinci, and I don’t say that lightly. He was a wonderful artist, a really wonderful artist. He was also an architect. He was an engineer, and he was the father of modern science.

“He was extraordinary. He designed the prototype of the flying machine. In the play, as we say, he is all around you. Even in the sash windows and thermometers. He was the person that coined the word cell. He made extraordinary advances with telescopes and microscopes.

“He was a genius, but he was not a gentleman. He was our first paid scientist.”

And yet posterity simply hasn’t done him justice.

“One of the reasons was that he was such a genius and a polymath involved in so many arts and sciences that it was difficult maybe for historians to grasp the full breadth of his vision.

“But there is a darker side going on here. He became almost an iconic figure of fun as a miser and a hunchback, a grumpy man always accusing Issac Newton of stealing his ideas. But if you go back to the original sources, you see that this man had loads of friends. He was always in the coffee shops. He was very popular and had very very loyal friends. The bad publicity just doesn’t reflect the detail of his life at all?”

So just what happened?....

Hanging Hooke stars Chris Barnes who has performed at the National Theatre, the West End, the Bush Theatre, the Donmar Warehouse, the Traverse in Edinburgh, the Young Vic and the Old Vic while his film appearances include Much Ado About Nothing, Frankenstein, The Grotesque and most recently Amazing Grace. TV credits include Silent Witness, Hornblower, Midsomer Murders, Wycliffe, Trial and Retribution, Dalziel and Pascoe, Waking the Dead, and New Tricks.

Tickets can on 01293 553636 or by visiting