The Origin of The Species...

Holden Street Theatres. 9 Mar 2012

The full title of this show is...take a deep breath...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.

This immediately gives you the sense that what you’re about to see is perhaps going to be a little bit silly, and a tad quirky, and that’s exactly what it is.  You’re going to love it a lot, or prefer that you were elsewhere, and on the night I saw the show, that’s exactly what the smallish audience reaction was; a lot of enthusiastic wolf whistling and appreciative laughter; stony dead pan expressionless faces (perhaps with the hint of a scowl of derision) through to...well...down right plain rudeness.

The show is a one-man musical and comedic survey of the life, times and family of Charles Darwin and the trials and tribulations he faces in getting his famous theory of evolution published and accepted by the community at large.  Over sixty highly energised minutes performer John Hinton introduces us to Darwin, his disapproving father and his submissive cousin (whom he later marries), his scientific rivals and allies, the good ship The Beagle and its captain, and his famous potter Uncle Josiah Wedgewood (who, for dramatic purposes is a ‘pot head’!)

The script is clever, witty, humorous and is partly delivered in the forms of ballads which Hinton sings as he accompanies himself on guitar.  From what I could make out, the script was mostly historically accurate (pot smoking Josiah aside!) but Hinton spoke and sang at such great speed that he was not always able to be heard clearly in the echoey Holden Street Studio Theatre.  Hinton frequently interacted with the audience and ‘required’ their participation–miming bird behaviour, holding up sheet music while he signs–which didn’t go down well with some members of the audience–but most got right into the spirit of things!

The set was effective, and in true Fringe style, was minimalist.  A well placed desk, bookcase and trunk, along with a good lighting design, were all that was necessary to create the intimacy of the scientist’s study.

Despite Hinton’s energy, skill and obvious commitment to the show, it didn’t really work for me.  It tries to be too many things:  at times it is stand-up comedy, at others it is dramatic story telling, and then it tries to be a singing act.  All of these elements work well enough by themselves–a testimony to Hinton’s engaging personality and honed skills–but together they lack a gestalt.  And the audience participation often seems ‘thrown in’ for no real reason, as if there is some rule book that says it is a required aspect of comedic Fringe acts.

But, as Hinton left the stage after performing his last scene entitled Descent of Humanity in D Minor (!), and then returned for his curtain call, (most of) the audience erupted in enthusiastic applause and retired to the bar to have a drink and chat with him.

Kym Clayton

When: 10 to 18 Mar
Where: Holden Street Theatres - The Studio
Bookings: www.adelaidefringe.com.au