Astra Alba and the 6(+1) Quarks is a play for children to perform. It has been written to stimulate and develop their interest in Science.
In the play, a schoolgirl who complains that her stories never have a scientific basis, is visited by General Relativity. He explains that he is “in charge of the Universe” but sometimes gets “awfully lonely just directing his forces, so occasionally visits Earth for a bit of companionship”. In their conversation, he mentions various Scientists and scientific events. For example he comments “Oh, I have a few specials who deal with insignificant matters like throwing down apples until someone realises that it’s a bit odd that they always hit the ground”!
Eventually the General asks Sarah to go into the future with him, to see how fairy tales are made.
The story that they watch together is a scientific adaptation of Snow White. The wicked step-mother becomes ‘The Wicked Queen of Antimatter’ who rules the Kingdom of Darkness. Astra Alba is her beautiful step-daughter. They hope to marry Prince Comet, who is to visit them in orbit, but his messengers, the pulsars, say that he must marry the most beautiful woman in the Universe.
Instead of the mirror on the wall, the Dark Queen consults The Musicians of the Spheres as to who is the fairest. They reply:
“Dark Queen, our music sings through Space
Praising thy beauteous form and face.
Yet even that cannot compare
With Astra Alba... the most fair.”
This angers her so much that she orders her servant, the little Robot, to exterminate Astra. Of course he cannot, but takes her instead to the bright Kingdom of the Quarks (the dwarfs). The Quarks are dressed in the colours by which they are normally represented and are named appropriately Top, Bottom, Up, Down, Strange and Charm. Their job is not mining but polishing stars. “It wasn’t too bad at first because we hadn’t far to travel, but now that they are so far away, we are tired before we even begin out work - and as the Universe continues to expand we shall not be able to keep all of them bright.”
They are also sad because they are “Joined by Gluons” and long to be free. They also fear the Red Giant. However, when he appears, Astra Alba speaks kindly to him and the giant is transformed into a White Dwarf and joins the Quarks in Astra’s family.
The Dark Queen does not tempt Astra with a poisoned apple, but, in disguise, she begs Astra’s help to guard Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons, which has fallen, “Just over the lip of that black crater yonder”.
The crater turns out to be a Black Hole! Astra Alba is pulled into it and the Dark Queen is now declared the most fair.
The Quarks are devastated, “Nothing ever returns from the Black Hole - No power is great enough”. However, all of Astra’s friends form a chain and manage to get her out - though Prince Comet’s bright trailing hair is left in the hole. When the Dark Queen tries to rescue it, the Little Robot pushes her in and, because of his bravery, the spell on him is lifted and he is revealed as the 7th Quark. The Quarks are freed to be individuals and, as in all good fairy tales, everyone lives happily ever after.
In the epilogue, Sarah and General Relativity discuss the events and then he takes her home. She thinks the adventure was “a wonderful dream” until she sees that her puppy has become an old dog. The play ends when her mother, now with grey hair, hobbles in and Sarah cries, “And whatever happened to you Mummy?”
The play was first performed at the end of a school year as the culmination of a great deal of exploration - much of it inspired by the children themselves. Science, history, art and music were all combined to make the play a success. The production fired the children’s imaginations. They wanted to discover how the Universe worked and aspired to become the next generation of scientists - perhaps the new explorers of Time and Space.