The Origin of Species by means of natural selection or the survival of (r)evolutionary theories in the face of scientific and ecclesiastical objections: being a musical comedy about Charles Darwin (1809-1882).
Tangram Theatre @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio
1:00pm, Fri 2 Mar 2012
I was tempted – when facing of the longest show title I’ve ever typed – to produce the shortest possible post that captured my memories of my experience. But that’d just be restricting myself for style’s sake, and no-one’s going to read this anyway… so, as always, I’ll just dump my memories out here unfettered.
As the audience files into The Studio, John Hinton (who also wrote the piece) sits at a desk peering through his microscope; he glances up to greet us, referring to us as “specimens”, and occasionally checks to see whether we’d brought our own quills. One we’re all seated, he recants a brief recap of Charles Darwin‘s life, leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (including the rush necessitated by Wallace‘s pending publication – I’ve been listening to lots of SGU lately, so this was vaguely familiar to me).
Starting with Darwin’s progression through a series of schools and professions (guided by his father), the play spends a lot of time with Professor Henslow and Darwin’s travels on the Beagle (the conversations between Darwin and the ship’s captain, Fitzroy, are brilliant fun). Once Darwin returns home to Britain, he marries his cousin, briefly explains the contents of Origin of Species to us, before a silly (in a good way) de-evolutionary denouement.
There’s certainly no fourth wall in this performance, as Hinton involves the audience on many occasions, getting his “specimens” to play the part of finches – miming to bird songs, or even mating. Whilst I suspect that though the disappointingly thin crowd numbers (only a dozen or so) obviously impeded his set pieces somewhat, Hinton still produces a wonderful comic presentation – Darwin is presented with great self-awareness, and his ability to snap between characters (most noticeably Darwin, his father, and Fitzroy) is occasionally mixed up for maximum laughs. And there’s a smattering of songs scattered throughout, with some fun rhythm mangling going on as Hinton plays acoustic guitar and sings with great expression.
You’ve got to respect a performer who has a show with thirty words in the title (especially when the Fringe Guide blurb is limited to fifty!) – that shows a faith in their audience, and a confidence in the work. Luckily, the performance absolutely deserves that confidence: it’s intelligent, witty, fast-paced, and a lot of fun.