Adelaide Fringe 2012
The Origin Of The 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.
Holden Street Theatres – The Studio, 34 Holden St, Hindmarsh
A highly entertaining and educational musical journey through the life of Charles Darwin, as he races to publish his influential work, The Origin of the Species, in the face of disapproval from the Church, the scientific community and his family.
Sixty minutes, one man and the theory of evolution—welcome to John Hinton’s portrayal of Charles Darwin, arguably the world’s most famous naturalist. While the works of Darwin are well-known, an in-depth examination of his Theory of Evolution may not sound like the most entertaining Friday night, however this show proved to be the exact opposite.
We meet Darwin as he discovers that his colleague, Alfred Russel Wallace, has also stumbled upon a theory of evolution, pushing Darwin to get his published first. The show takes us back through Darwin’s life and traces his ground breaking journey on The Beagle, using song, audience interaction and a flurry of facts (especially about barnacles).
Throughout the one-man show, Hinton introduces us to a variety of the characters that featured in Darwin’s life. His comedic flair and impeccable timing perfectly capture the disapproval of Darwin’s father, the disbelief of Captain Fitzroy, the fawning adoration of Cousin Emma (later Darwin’s wife) and the pot-smoking/making Uncle Wedgewood.
A real strength of this production is the fantastic script; it’s smart and funny, but warm and down-to earth. Combined with the committed and engaging performance of the highly likeable John Hinton, this show is a winner. Clever touches, like the sheet music used to represent Darwin’s work, take complex scientific terms and concepts, and make them … well, not understandable, but charming and intriguing.
Hinton’s performance was near flawless, singing power ballads in tails and allowing the audience to feel a connection with this almost mythical historical figure. He did lose his way at one point, jumping furiously from character to character, however recovered well and used the opportunity to add even more laughs to the show. It was also easy to forgive the cough he struggled with throughout the performance, as he wholeheartedly threw himself into each song.
The set was simple, with just a bookcase, desk, and acoustic guitar in Darwin’s office, leaving plenty of room for Hinton to strut his stuff, and for the audience’s imaginations to join Darwin on his journeys. Good use of the props were made to propel the audience into the next chapter of the story, and helped to link sections of the plot. The clever use of lighting enhanced the musical features including a number of rock-star moments that Hinton seems to revel in—who knew evolution could be so funky?
The show wasn’t quite perfect; there were a couple of moments where the punch lines didn’t quite have their full effect on the audience, prompting Hinton to offer a little more explanation so that we could enjoy the joke. There were also times I wished that the fast paced script would slow down long enough for me to catch more of the information.
Audience interaction plays a large role in this show: every single person was involved at some point, from miming barnacle behaviour to demonstrating the mating call of a South American finch. This high level of give and take between the audience and performer created a real sense of active involvement in the show, a refreshing change from the passive nature of many productions. The first laughs could be heard from the audience within sixty seconds of the show commencing, as Hinton’s captivating portrayal of Darwin won the audience over.
In every aspect, The Origin of The Species is an irresistible, laugh-out-loud production that enthusiastically allows this year’s Fringe audiences to take a closer look at a historical figure that has shaped the way humans view themselves and the world around them.