Culture24 on the road for Museums at Night 2012: Ben Miller visits Oxford
Although the thin black passport-holding wallets handed out at each of Oxford’s Museums at Night venues are a nice touch, their introductory charm is occasionally bettered by some of the characters on the bill.
“You all look really fit,” announces George Reid, one half of AlunaGeorge, the London duo who entrance a decidedly good-looking dancefloor at the end of the night.
On the streets, a majestically-dressed fellow entices tourists and regulars to join in the fun, luring us with impeccably-clipped utterances, dazzled by his immaculate Tudor garb.
It isn’t all flattery and foppishness – the Ashmolean’s collection is simply incredible, made even better by the insights of a number of fluent tour guides.
The atrium is supposed to be piping out classical music, but that has to be replaced by a kind of atmospheric drone in a bid to drown out the clattering soundcheck going on in the adjacent gallery-turned-club.
Over at the towering Museum of the History of Science – where carved stone bearded heads mark the entrance – an imposter is being exposed.
“Of course, you think, if you wanted to be an astronomer you’d call yourself Thomas Gemini,” says our guide, musing in a soft Irish lilt at the end of a speedy run-through of stargazing history not unlike being introduced to science by Terry Wogan. “But that wasn’t his name at all – it was just a cool business plan.”
In fact, it’s another 16th century pioneer from the Low Countries – Gerard Mercator – who’s positioned as the most important astronomer of our times in the excellent Renaissance in Astronomy exhibition, and he’d have been proud of the master craftsmen in the next room, who use their nimble skills to teach kids how to make prints, globes and tools.
Pitt Rivers glows opposite the city’s academic villages. The cathedralesque entrance is deceptive, because inside people are supping ale and luminous cocktails, and a DJ is playing rumba, Bossa nova and 1940s dance, dwarfed by a dinosaur and flanked by cases telling the story of the animal world.
One listener offers detailed advice on the records he should play next. But there’s no such cheek in the cavernous lower gallery back at the Ashmolean, where Birmingham dub band Trouaca are entertaining a full and well-oiled house, draped in pink lighting.
Advance tickets have sold out, and AlunaGeorge only make the busy basement even sweatier. Their bass-heavy set illustrates why those early evening soundchecks were worth the noise.
Culture24's Museums at Night 2012 continues through Saturday and Sunday May 19 and 20. See the full listings and refine your search by place, subject or theme.