The Inventor of All Things (Jem Rolls) 2015 Toronto Fringe Review


Late last night, a scrappy, sure-footed performance-poet strutted onto the Tarragon Theatre‘s Mainspace, rambling about Hungarian nuclear physicists and a Nazi atomic bomb. With nothing but a few changes in lighting and an effortlessly lyrical monologue, Jem Rolls continued to spin these ramblings into a fascinating one-man show titled The Inventor of All Things.  This is a last-minute, so-late-it’s-not-even-in-the-program entry, and judging by the audience reaction, the Toronto Fringe Festival is lucky to have Rolls on board.

The Inventor of All Things tells the true story of Hungarian nuclear physicist Leo Szilard.  Even if you haven’t heard of Szilard, you’ve heard of his work: he first conceived of the nuclear chain reaction, collaborated with Albert Einstein in the Manhattan Project, and ultimately sucker-punched the Nazi’s nuclear program simply by knowing more about graphite than they did.

Yet, as Rolls acknowledges, nobody really knows who Leo Szilard is. Too socially inept to get the backing of his peers, too high-minded to study the theory of theoretical physics, and too arrogant to wash his own dishes or flush his own toilet, Szilard found himself constantly relegated to history’s sidelines.

Jem Rolls is out to change that, and amplifies his already interesting subject matter with a spirited delivery. In The Inventor of All Things, Rolls is equal parts poet and playwright, and his passion for the subject and the spoken word shine through its often bleak and harrowing World War II narrative.

While the play’s narrative arc is worth the price of admission, its author’s mastery of the spoken word is what makes the show.  He has travelled the world, performing in thousands of recitations, plays and poetry-slams, and it shows as he ricochets between historical exposition and lyrical portrait painting with scarcely a pause for breath.

Occasionally Rolls’ enthusiasm for the subject throws the narrative into a whirlwind pace. Fortunately, The Inventor of All Things program provides a who’s-who of characters and motivations which will help sort out the play’s many intricacies – do yourself a favour and give it a glance before the show begins.


The Inventor of All Things plays at Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave)

Show times:

July 03 at 03:00 PM
July 06 at 08:00 PM
July 07 at 03:00 PM
July 09 at 07:30 PM
July 10 at 08:45 PM
July 12 at 12:00 PM

Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online , by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; seewebsite for details.

To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.

Photo of Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein sourced from Wikipedia.