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adelaide fringe theatre review: 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)

Just as you should never judge a book by its cover, you should ordinarily never judge a play by its title – but it’s pretty much all in there with this one. The only thing left out is that the life of Charles Darwin, and the development of his seminal work The Origin of Species, will be told by just one man (John Hinton) and his guitar.

Hinton tells the story of Darwin’s schooling, family – including his overbearing father and marriage to his first cousin Emma – and the development of The Origin of Species through monologue and song. Actually, it’s more like a conversation with the audience. We are asked and answer questions, finish song lyrics, and mime when prompted. The youngest audience member is even, to his apparent delight, used as a living music stand.

This is the kind of audience participation which doesn’t make you uncomfortable. There is no squirming and no shrinking into the shadows because there is no pressure, Hinton’s jovial Darwin instead creating a warm and fun (if somewhat ridiculous) atmosphere.

When necessary, Hinton flits between other characters, from Darwin’s stern and severe father to his relaxed and enlightened pot maker (or is it consumer?) uncle. Here physicality is used to great comical effect, with each character clearly defined. The accuracy of their depictions is obviously skewed – see Darwin’s uncle, who was actually a potter – and this is what makes the show fun. It floats along happily, from the beginning of Darwin’s career to the outcry caused by his work, never forcing information onto you but instead plying you with a particular whimsy that Hinton has down to a fine art.

Hinton tells us at the end of the production that he is fast approaching the 100th performance of this show, and you can see why. He may not be the greatest singer and the veracity of the historical content is questionable, but The Origin of Species is fun, informative and interactive – a killer combination.

The Origin of Species, presented by Holden Street Theatres, Tangram Theatre and John Hinton, is playing as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival at Holden Street Theatres until March 18. Tickets here.

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