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Edinburgh international science festival

Sooner or later it always comes down to this - the opening performance of a new science show, with the star in a silver lame suit pacing up and down outside a door that leads to a hall bulging with expectant children. Precisely the moment when you don't need a journalist asking stupid questions.

"You look nervous." "I am."

"Have you done this sort of thing before?" "Yes." She walks away, her lips moving soundlessly, and I join the rest of the audience at the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels.

But it begins months earlier, with just the germ of an idea - "Why don't we devise a show about a machine that travels to the future, powered by the children's imaginations?" "Great," they said. "Brilliant." "Get on with it then," they said.

"So I talked to lots of people and dreamt up various angles," says the show's originator Lish Hogge. "And finally came up with this game show format, with a host who's sparkly, loud and over-the-top and an assistant who's cool, knows all the science and does the actual time-travelling.

"So we have this groovy set, with a gold backdrop, a geodesic dome, and a big screen and video projector, and of course the time-machine itself.

"I've done quite a few science shows - I trained at Questacon, Australia's national science centre - but you're never sure about a new one till you've seen it in front of a live audience."

The waiting is almost over, as Bobbi the assistant nears the end f her warm-up routine. "Now, children, this show is called Imagine That," she says, "so when we discover something amazing one of us will say 'Well, well, well' and I want all of you to shout out 'Imagine That!'."

At this point Fance erupts into the hall, dives into the audience, shakes people's hands, kisses Bobbi and her furry microphone, and does the moonwalk. Bobbi holds up a sign that says "GO BONKERS", and the assembled classes from several primary schools around Galashiels do just that, giving Fance the uproarious reception she obviously expects.

"Tell us about this machine then, my little friend," Fance says.

"It's a chrono-electromagnetic, relativistic, asynchronous, instantaneous imaginator."

"Of course it is. Uhhh ..what does it do then?" "It takes me to the future," Bobbi replies, "where I'll collect samples of science and technology, check out what people are doing, and come back and tell you all about it. Basically, Fance, this baby is the thing that dreams are made of."

"Well, well, well."


Douglas Blane

The Great Expectations shows, one focusing on genetics in the 21st century, the other on technology, and both dealing with social issues, energy and the environment, are supported by the Millennium Commission and Millennium Festival with funding from the Discovery Channel.Both tour Scottish schools for the rest of this year. Details from the Box Office, 0131 473 2070

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