Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

28/05/2013 - 01/06/2013

Crystal Palace, New Plymouth, Taranaki

19/08/2017 - 19/08/2017

The Basement -return season, Auckland

08/09/2015 - 19/09/2015

Suter Theatre, Nelson

18/10/2017 - 19/10/2017

Great Hall, The Arts Centre, Christchurch

14/09/2017 - 16/09/2017


Taranaki Arts Festival 2017


Production Details


You know him as the man who split the atom. You know him from the 100-dollar note (if you are rich). But did you know that Ernest Rutherford once kicked Einstein in the back? Or that he was deathly afraid of cicadas? Or that he had something to do with the sinking of the Titanic? Well he might have! You don’t know!

Get excited. Get giddy. Get ready for learning! Because LEGENDARY New Zealand scientist Ernest Lord Rutherford has invited YOU to attend a lecture!

Our most noted physicist will be appearing live for the first time in over 70 years to dish spoonfuls of knowledge into the hungry brains of eager young academics like yourself!

Raised in Nelson, Rutherford’s thirst for science led him to the far corners of the globe, into the pitch depths of his own troubled soul, (and once to a quite nice Bed and Breakfast outside of Masterton) to unmask the building blocks of life. Much is known of his greatest achievements. But not so much is recalled of the time he met Sherlock Holmes. Or when he shrunk himself down to the size of an atom. Or when he ate THREE rump steaks in one sitting all by himself with no help.

In this lecture Rutherford will hold your nervous, sweaty hand and walk you through some of his favourite science experiments, regale you with tales of historical interest, sing some of his old Cambridge school songs, and argue with his devoted wife Mary.

Nic Sampson (Mega Christmas, Black Confetti, Bombs Away: A Musical!) uses his brand of commanding, irreverent comedy to bring the half-researched Ernest Rutherford to very accurate life with acting, clothes, and a real moustache he grew himself. Don’t miss this opportunity to be inspired by a true kiwi hero.

See Ernest in action in this video: 

Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science!
Tuesday May 28th to Saturday June 1st 2013
Basement Theatre


After a hugely successful season in 2013, Nic Sampson returns as Ernest Rutherford, splitter of the atom and face of the $100 bill.  Join him as this mustachioed scientific giant claws his way out of the history books to give his first university lecture in over 70 years. With improvised scenes meaning no two shows will be the same, see Rutherford fight Albert Einstein aboard the Titanic, live inside a whale, and woo his long-suffering wife Mary (played by a broom). Oh, and split the atom.

 “When I left my face hurt from smiling… I couldn’t recommend this show more.” – Gather and Hunt

Genius!” – Theatre Scenes

It was the best character comedy I’ve ever seen in NZ.” – Guy Williams

Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science! plays
8 – 19 September 2015 @ 7pm
The Basement Theatre, Auckland
Tickets $20 / $18 at 

Crystal Palace
Sat, Aug 19, 2pm

Great Hall The Arts Centre
Thu 14 & Fri 15 Sep, 6:00pm
Sat 16 Sep, 2:00pm
$39 / Conc $36
Family $110 – 4 tickets with max 2 adults, add up to 2 extra child tickets $29 each
Student Rush $20
*Fees & conditions apply, see How to Book.

Nelson Arts Festival 2017

Wed 18 Oct, 7pm; Thu 19 Oct, 1.30 & 7pm
60 mins, no interval
FULL $39 | UNDER 19 $25
SENIOR $35 | GROUP OF 6+ $35pp
(Group bookings only available at Theatre Royal Nelson) 
Book Now!

Theatre , Solo , Comedy ,

1 hr

Delightful, clever, wonderfully interactive and thought-provoking

Review by Lisa Allan 19th Oct 2017

Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science! is a comic romp through Rutherford’s life-story. The piece is written and performed by Nic Sampson who delivers his one-man show with great energy and oodles of casual charm.

The play has a special resonance for Nelsonians because ours is the city in which Rutherford was born. It is also where, the play tells us (with a stretching of the truth that is set to be characteristic of the piece), he found his first book about physics, sodden in a puddle.

Sampson plays Rutherford as he would be if he beamed himself into 2017 to deliver a lecture. The audience are taken on a journey with members playing integral parts in the show. I am intrigued by Sampson’s faith in his volunteers. He challenges his unsuspecting co-creators to shine in some pretty high stake ways and, thankfully (for the nurturer inside of me), they do. The audience, in fact, are super keen to participate and this allows for lots of fun.

It might be because of the heightened awareness around the treatment of women in our society at the moment but I can’t help feeling the clunk of something shifting inside of me when Rutherford interacts with his wife, Mary. This might be how it was, it might be dramatic interpretation, but either way, when Sampson chooses to physically drop the prop representing his wife on the ground, I no longer like Rutherford quite so much. He is revealed to be selfish and uncaring and the comedy of just seconds before no longer fits the show so comfortably. I think this is an interesting shade to paint this historical figure in and it makes me want to know more about who he really was.

Overall, the show is delightful, clever, wonderfully interactive and thought-provoking.


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Beautifully structured, utterly engaging, packed with gags

Review by Erin Harrington 15th Sep 2017

We all have mysterious cultural earworms, and for me it’s an ANZ ad from the mid-1990s. A $100 note bursts from the darkness of a man’s wallet, and the note’s cartoon likeness of Nobel prize-winning scientist Ernest Rutherford manically drags the man around, the banknote like a sail, gleefully imploring the man to spend up large on pretty much anything. “Let’s buy it!” he gasps at a sculptural model of an atom, before being wrangled, grumbling, into a savings account. 

Nic Sampson’s delightful rendition of Rutherford in his one act show Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science! reminds me so much of this caricature. It’s a high-energy, gregarious and charming performance. The setup is that Rutherford is here, for the first time in 70 years, to deliver a lecture on his work in advanced particle physics. We soon head in an unexpected direction, and biographical fact is augmented by hyperbolic whimsy as Rutherford’s long-term love affair with Lady Science, and his quest to make an ‘atom splitty’ machine, take him on an outrageous adventure. 

In full mad professorial mode, Sampson races about the stage, scribbles incoherently on the blackboard, and leaps down onto the flat to interact with the audience. He offers some terrific vocal and physical work, and manages to make the delivery of some dense and complex scripting look like a doddle. This show makes much better use of the Great Hall’s limited sight lines than other Christchurch Arts Festival shows, and there’s the added environmental bonus that just metres away from us are some of the rooms that Rutherford worked in while at Canterbury College.

Elements of interaction and improvisation are also stitched well into the show’s structure, providing some terrific augmentation of the madcap action, although the show’s key ‘volunteer’ is startled and reluctant enough that I wish Sampson had just shoulder-tapped someone else once the man’s bafflement had become apparent.

It’s interesting getting a read of the room during and after the show, as I am surprised to realise that there is some quiet disgruntlement, particularly from the older members of the audience who make up a good portion of the crowd. The marketing material from the Christchurch Arts Festival does not really flag the show’s turn to the ridiculous. My plus one, a scientist, wants more science, and the elderly woman in front of me mutters that the events of the show are ‘bloody nonsense’, so there’s been some sort of disconnect in terms of expectation.

It is obvious how much research has gone into the show, but I wonder if some of the audience were expecting a little more lab work and a little less hand-to-hand combat, volcanoes and chase sequences. I respond really well to the way the show surfs its way steadily up the absurdity curve – it could have had radioactive dinosaurs doing kung fu between titrations and I still would have been happy – but I can understand why some members of the audience might not be so well disposed.

I must stress that this isn’t an issue with the show itself at all. It’s beautifully structured and written, utterly engaging, and packed to the gunwales with gags that range from the esoteric and intellectual to the base and ridiculous. It is also an impressive performance with a great deal of heart and a very sweet resolution. Nonetheless, I’m left wondering if it’s been inadvertently pitched, or interpreted, and I certainly hope that it gets the audiences it rightly deserves. 


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A silly, fun, ridiculous, delightful show

Review by Victoria Kerr 21st Aug 2017

Nic Sampson’s one man show certainly delivers.  Sampson (actor and writer, best known for Jono and Ben and Funny Girls) romps backwards and forwards through time, interweaving past and present, science and comedy, fact and fantasy much like the flax of Rutherford’s childhood, to deliver a fun-filled hour. 

On the pretext of delivering a lecture, Sampson takes us through the life of Nobel prize-winner Rutherford, albeit with much poetic licence. In turns berating and charming the audience, Sampson masterfully brings to life a character little known beyond being the ‘father of the nuclear age’ and the face on $100 note. With a knowing nod and wink to the present, Sampson invites us to forego sense and trust ourselves to go on a journey with him.

We travel with Rutherford through time from his Nelson childhood to Christchurch and Cambridge via the absurd interlude of the Titanic back to Cambridge then returning to Nelson, meeting his wife and daughter and fellow scientists along the way.  This is a story of his two loves: Mary, his wife, and science.

Much of the comedy is derived from the audience interaction. From the outset the audience are encouraged to be involved with a pre-show science test. The scene and tone is set. Sampson handles the audience and the audience participation superbly, enticing, cajoling and manipulating individuals to bring out the comedy. He also handles the awkward moments that such interactions bring with charm, wit and grace. His improvisation skills and quick thinking are certainly required.

Blending diverse stories such as Jonah and the whale, Robinson Crusoe and a farcical young Einstein, the audience are taken on a fantastical and absurd ride through time and science. Many threads and ridiculous one liners are combined to create a funny, rollicking show which appeals to all ages.

The audience for this performance is diverse in age – old and young appear to be equally charmed and captivated. The laughter rings out. This is certainly a show for ‘everyone.’

Sampson is tireless in wringing out the humour in every moment with the comedy being physical as well as verbal.  Equally, nothing is superfluous in this show with all the myriad and ridiculous threads brought to a neat and lovely conclusion.  Whilst the props are minimal, they are utilised fully and ingenuously. Who knew that so much humour could be derived from a blackboard and a piece of chalk and a broom and a scarf or indeed moments of tenderness.  

This is a silly, fun, ridiculous, delightful show perfectly suited to the intimate venue of a speigeltent. It is such a shame there was only one performance at the Taranaki Arts Festival. If you ever have the chance to see this show, do so. You will not be disappointed. Everyone can certainly laugh. 


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Lord "Comedy" Rutherford

Review by James Wenley 10th Sep 2015

Lord Ernest Rutherford hasn’t had his due. No emotional biopic, no sharable internet meme. Sure his face is on our $100 bill, but how many of us have that sort of denomination in our wallets? Father of the nuclear age, but his recognition has been as tiny as the atom he split. No, he hasn’t had his due. Until now.

It is difficult to think of a more unlikely subject to base a comedy character around. But Nic Sampson has the nose, and more importantly, the coiffured mustache, to find comic potential where others might not. [More]


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Review by Nik Smythe 09th Sep 2015

Renowned Kiwi brainiac Ernest Lord Rutherford (easy going enough to accept the simple epithet ‘Father of the Atomic Age’) returns to the Basement Studio to deliver his spellbinding lecture on the topic of … some sort of physics, I think.  Having attended two years ago I am anticipating writer/actor Nic Sampson and director Chris Parker to offer embellished and exaggerated pseudo-science and egghead humour permeated with effusive condescension.  Check, check, check.

The set’s been fancied up a bit: a plush red curtain backdrop, large blackboard and attractive stripped-wood furniture.  A small potted flax plant pays homage to our distinguished speaker’s flax-centric formative years in “depressingly sunny” Nelson, and stage right a largish papier-mâché volcano awaits its moment of climactic glory. 

Entering in an ego-fuelled bluster and cutting right to the chase, Rutherford’s informative lecture on the principles of atomic physics soon transforms into an animated life-story, rich with poignant discovery and poetic passion, and for some reason more than a little bit obsessed with swans. 

Along the way we meet Rutherford’s father, his eleven siblings, his dear wife Mary and his even dearer companion, Lady Science.  He enlists audience members to represent other characters and provide various atmospheric sounds, and the results are as amusing or more so than you might imagine.

Later on he fondly recalls his old drinking gang during the Cambridge years, including such luminaries as Marie Curie and old Albert Einstein, about whom he clearly has a sizeable chip upon his shoulder.  Their rivalry culminates in a desperate game of hide-and-seek aboard the Titanic before landing Rutherford on a remote desert island whereupon he is able to resume and conclude his groundbreaking research in peace.

The heights and/or depths of Lord Rutherford’s geek humour knows no bounds, as exemplified in the spirited chase scene during which he mimes riding his horse named Schrödinger, both there and not, simultaneously.*  We are tactfully advised towards the end, that perhaps not quite every part of this startling autobiographical adventure is entirely factual.

In summary, one finds when calculating the algebraic formula of experimental hypotheses times measurable science over romanticised history to the power of hilarious, Nic Sampson’s Ernest Lord Rutherford is definitely on the money.

*[Google Schrödinger’s cat:
   noun Physics
a cat imagined as being enclosed in a box with a radioactive source and a poison that will be released when the source (unpredictably) emits radiation, the cat being considered (according to quantum mechanics) to be simultaneously both dead and alive until the box is opened and the cat observed.]


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Side Splitty Stuff

Review by Sharu Delilkan 31st May 2013

I worry about the title of Nic Sampson’s new show Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science! mainly because people might get the wrong impression thinking that it is a boring show about splitting the atom. And although Sampson hails from Gen Y, I suspect a majority of his generation may not even equate Rutherford with splitting the atom, but may have seen him on the 100 Kiwi ‘pound’ note.

As always Sampson ventures into the real world with Dali-esque imagination that draws out the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fantasies in us all – even in such an austere Victorian setting as Ernest’s earnest 1870s England. What he does with great success is take a scientific title, which we think we are familiar with but take us to a more human place, and it couldn’t be further from what we expected to encounter. This is reinforced by passing the $100 note with Rutherford’s face on it around the audience while humanising his scientific god-like status with marital problems, racism, ambition, bad French and wild imagination. [More]


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Embellishing history

Review by Nik Smythe 31st May 2013

I’m not sure how contingent the Basement Theatre’s no-risk initiative is in bringing such random works as Nic Sampson’s Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science to the stage. The vibrancy and unapologetic concoction of originality and cliché has a brisk, unusually relaxed air about it such that some analytical pedant might suggest it’s a result of a lack of pecuniary concern. 

Ernest Lord Rutherford is of course himself a pecuniary concern, in that his lithographed visage graces our hundred dollar bills.  Still, for Sampson and company there must be enormous freedom for their artistic expression just because the worst that can happen is they make no money.  Of course there’s still incentive to make a success of it; they are just alleviated from incurring life-crippling debt. 

This same benefit that makes anything possible is rendered moot in this instance by the sheer entertaining power of Nic Sampson.  From the moment he emerges to personally usher u s in, his manically droll father-of-modern-physics-meets-egotistical-standup-comedian has the modest 3rd-night gathering rapt with curiosity.

For such a simple premise, when considering all the elements (no pun intended) it actually shapes up to be a rather complex study of one of our most treasured Caucasian forefathers.  Inevitable I suppose when said premise includes allusion to complex chemical and nuclear physics. 

Mr. Rutherford’s effusive manner is both on our level and less-than subtly condescending as he guides us through his sometimes shocking, always silly tale of personal discovery and triumph.  Along the way various audience folk are enlisted to assist in the theatricalities with sound effects, character representations or general clean-up duties. 

Dubious lessons in ‘sciencing’ are rendered even more dubious when what I gather was to be Rutherford’s volcanic climax (not to imply anything) unfortunately fails to perform on the night (ditto).  Sampson breezes through this embarrassing malfunction with reasonable aplomb. 

I’ve mentioned previously – i.e. in my review for Bombs Away – and hereby reiterate my appreciation for this kind of comedy that harks back to the relative innocence and unbridled silliness epitomised by the Goodies. 

In conclusion, as much as this piece is rather loose, very much in the experimental stage, Nic Sampson is definitely on to something here – let alone that he’s chosen one of our oldest world-famous figureheads to lampoon, whom conveniently very few people know anything about at all aside from his splitting of the atom. 

We continue to know very little about him after seeing this play, but as his Rutherford tells us, in order to excuse the countless embellishments, it’s more important to get a sense of the adventure his life and work was than to have all the facts correct. 


Michael Smythe June 1st, 2013

Ernest Rutherford's pecuniary concern (or lack thereof) is, of course, immortalised in the statement “Gentlemen, we have run out of money. It’s time to start thinking.”

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