The Work: Plays


2002, 10 Actors


In the early 18th century the inability to find longitude led to such loss of life and cargo that Parliament passed an act offering £20,000 to anyone who solved the problem. Isaac Newton knew a clock would solve it but did not believe such a clock could be invented. Scientists focused on the lunar solution.

JOHN HARRISON, a carpenter and joiner from Lincolnshire, taught himself to mend clocks. He invented a land clock that ran accurately, and set himself the task of inventing a clock that could run accurately at sea. He spent his life perfecting it and, together with his son, fulfilled the tests required by Parliament.

For complex reasons the complete prize was never awarded to him. The play traces a lifetime's conflict between uneducated genius and the establishment. An epic play in a Hogarthian setting calling for music - HARRISON was also a choirmaster.


And while my timekeeper is dismantled and out of function your priest and professor the very very oh so reverend Neville Maskelyne will seek a trial of the ridiculous lunar method with its mad and cumbersome measurements between fixed stars and a crazy moon. And you'll love that, all of you. Your little heads will look up and gaze at the magnificence of the heavens and you'll imagine God is speaking to you, telling you the way, and it won't matter if there's a cloud or two or three or four you'll wait till they're passed and waste time calculating when all you need is my little piece of machinery. But no! Oh no! Too vulgar for you. What's a little metal, a few springs, and tiny wheels compared to the stars? Good Lord and little fishes, who is this upstart from up north with his tick tocking cogs and balances? Oh, yes. I know only too well why you want my timekeeper dismantled.