Review: The Inventor Of All Things (Red Sandcastle Theatre)


Jem Rolls’ Big, Impactful Show at the Red Sandcastle Theatre

I had never heard of Leo Szilard until I witnessed Jem Rolls present Leo’s story at the Red Sandcastle Theatre and Jem is spot on by deeming him The Inventor of All Things. Well, Leo didn’t invent everything, but his simple thought at a simple streetlight would have one of the biggest, literal and figurative, impacts on the world and, in effect, on all of our lives.

While out for a stroll – one of his many – Leo had the first thought for The Atomic Bomb. Much like the chain reaction that makes the bomb work, Jem details how Leo’s life was like that same chain reaction. He bounced around. He couldn’t sit still. He was almost the epitome of the bomb himself.

The Inventor of All Things is part history lesson, part performance piece, and part one-man show. Rolls is casual and engaging and after having him tell us some of the most important stories we had never heard, I left wanting him to be my personal story teller. Even when he was reciting facts about nuclear physics, I was always focused and entertained.

He structured the show with a narrative through-line about Leo and his experiences with what would end up being the Manhattan Project, and annotated this with tidbits from Leo’s life and those he happened to interact with, including Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi.

With no props on stage besides his enthusiasm, Jem hops back and forth between the story structures with only distinct lighting choices guiding the audience. It works, because he also tells each part of the story with distinction.

One of my big takeaways from the show was the moment Leo had the thought for the atomic bomb. It was set up perfectly. Leo was out for a walk and waiting for the streetlight to change. As he stood there he envisioned the chain reaction mentioned earlier. This made me think about how some of the biggest, most important, and impactful ideas can come at the most routine of moments.

Another point was when he was speaking about how gun powder was created by accident by peace loving monks. Like a lot of the stories that Jem gives us, and like he says, it is too strange for fiction.

The Inventor of All Things was a thoroughly enjoyable show. Rolls knows how to present otherwise dense material in a way that entertains and educates. I learned things about the world and about how there might not have been one if it wasn’t for Leo Szilard. I also learned that the next show Jem Rolls puts on, I want to see it.


  • The Inventor of All Things is playing until May 22, 2016 at Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen East)
  • Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm with a matinee at 2:30pm on Sunday
  • Tickets are $20 ($15 for Seniors, Students, and Arts Workers) and can be purchased at the door or through the box office at (416) 845-9411

Photo of Jem Rolls by Burke Campbell