Scotland’s Astronomer Royal to star in comedy show at Hebridean Dark Skies Festival

The first woman to be appointed Scotland's Astronomer Royal is to appear at a “dark skies festival” with a show combining the unsolved mysteries of the universe with comedy.

By Brian Ferguson
Thursday, 4th November 2021, 4:55 am

Professor Catherine Heymans, a world-leading leading expert on dark energy and dark matter, was appointed in May after being recommended to the Queen for the 187-year-old role.

She will be joining forces with Dr Joe Zuntz, a fellow academic at Edinburgh University, to host the opening event of the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival on the Isle of Lewis.

They will be reviving a double act which took to the stage of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe four years ago for their show The Universe: Does Anything Matter? in February.

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Catherine Heymans is the first woman to be appointed as Astronomer Royal for Scotland since the position was created in 1834. Picture: Callum Bennetts

Two weeks of live music, film, comedy, visual art and outdoor stargazing events will be staged during the fourth edition of the festival, which is based at Stornoway’s arts centre, An Lanntair.

The festival will also feature a theatre adaptation, in English and Gaelic, of The Edge of the Sky, Italian astrophysicist Roberto Trotta’s book attempting to tell the story of the universe using the 1000 most frequently-used words in the English language and a closing night concert featuring Scottish singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni.

Professor Heymans said: “I do really see dark skies as our last wilderness. There is so much out there to explore and imagine.

Outdoor stargazing events will be held on the Isle of Lewis in February as part of the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival. Picture: Scott Davidson

"We have some of the darkest skies in northern Europe in Scotland, which are an amazing resource that people can experience.

"I grew up near London and we came up to Scotland for a holiday and couldn’t believe how different the sky was. I’d never seen more than a handful of stars in the sky before.

"It’s only when you go to a dark sky area that you can really see how many stars are out there. Around almost all of them are other planets. Your imagination can become so creative about what is going on out there in the universe.

"Joe and I did a ‘comedy duo’ show at the Fringe a few years it and we’re going to be rekindling it for the the Hebrides.

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival will return in February.

"We’re basically going to be talking about how utterly insignificant we all are, which is obviously quite, funny, how amazingly large the universe is and that there may be multiple universes out there, and that everything can and will happen.

“We’ll be telling people that if they mess up in life it doesn’t really matter as their clone somewhere else in another universe will be doing everything perfectly.

"It’ll be a light-hearted look at the universe and everything that you might want to know but have been too scared to ask.”

Two weeks of events will be held as part of the Hebridean dark Skies Festival in February.

Festival director Andrew Eaton-Lewis said: “We’re thrilled to be bringing the festival back for a fourth year, and very grateful to Caledonian MacBrayne and Highlands and Islands Enterprise for their support.

“Lewis is a breathtakingly beautiful place to be in winter - on a clear night our views of the stars and the Northern Lights are just incredible.

"Even if the weather is against us, we’ve got another packed line-up of indoor events, exploring astronomy, the night sky, and our relationship with darkness through comedy, music, theatre, film, visual art, workshops and more.

"If you like the idea of a winter break on Lewis, now is the time.”

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Rachel Sermanni will be performing on the closing night of the festival.Picture: Gaelle Beri

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Professor Catherine Heymans and Dr Joe Zuntz will be joining forces to stage a night of astronomy and comedy at the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival.