Tangram Theatre’s Scientrilogy is on one of the first offerings on the newly formed Scenesaver website which is curating shows from the London fringe and around the world. And the first part of the trilogy is The Origin Of Species…which as you might expect is about Charles Darwin. Actually the full title of the piece is 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) but you’ll forgive me if I stick to the truncated version.
The show takes us through the formulation of the great theory of evolution which has been gestating for twenty years but is suddenly spurred on by the imminent publication of the same idea by “rival” Alfred Russell Wallace. Darwin undertakes his historic voyage on The Beagle, suffers almost permanent sea sickness but finds his theory coming to fruition in the Galapagos Islands after observing the minute differences between the types of finches there. Meanwhile his family simply want him to settle down and get married.
Now, the giveaway in the title is the phrase “Musical Comedy about…” for this is no dry Victorian lecture but a fun hour in the company of writer/performer John Hinton. He attacks his subject with a mischievous twinkle and, although principally he is Darwin, he plays all the roles including a pot smoking Josiah Wedgewood – there seems to be a bit of confusion as to what type of pot(s) he is responsible for. Some jokes hit the mark more readily than others but even the weaker ones are forgivable – it’s that sort of show. Hinton’s comic energy put me in mind of Groucho Marx crossed with John Cleese; not a bad pair of humourists with which to be compared, I venture.
Hinton makes full use of audience participation opportunities. One young lad is dragooned into being a music stand and there is a delightful sequence in which the differences between the various finches are demonstrated by using the entire audience. Some are asked to be a bit South American and others European; Hinton leaps into the audience to cajole and comment. The various sections of the show are interspersed with songs – some of these are wittier than others but they are all pleasant enough. And Hinton does a mean ape impersonation.
Staging is extremely simple but as the piece is being performed in Edinburgh and, as is made clear at the end, they need to clear the decks for another show coming in, this is entirely understandable. Hinton’s costume is a standard Victorian frock coat affair which, of course, makes his antics seem even more ludicrous. I wasn’t altogether convinced by the beard but, to be fair, I’m not sure I was supposed to be.
The other two parts of the Scientrilogy, again featuring Hinton, cover the work of Albert Einstein and Marie Curie and I’ll definitely be making a date to watch them. Science, of course, has the potential to be quite dry (witness the current briefings from government scientists appearing regularly on a screen near you) but I was amazed by what I learned in the course of an hour such as:
- Darwin was obsessed with barnacles
- Josiah Wedgewood was his uncle
- He played the guitar
- The captain of The Beagle nearly didn’t let Darwin on board because he didn’t like the shape of his nose
- He could juggle with spiders
To be fair I think a couple of these weren’t actually the case and were invented for the show, but I’ll leave it to you to work out which by watching and enjoying.
The Origin Of Species… is available via Scenesaver. Click here
The other two sections of the Scientriology are also available on Screensaver. These are Relatively Speaking (about Einstein) and The Element In the Room (about Curie)
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