How I WISH I had had the schedule and proximity to go and see it more than once! Yes, it was a huge disappointment that Nigel Planer was "indisposed" for the performance (a real blow to my friend). But Michael Jenn acquitted himself handsomely and the direction of the play lent itself well to seeing Planer's performance still there, just in another body.
First produced at Birmingham Rep in 2003, the play has a freshness that clearly draws from its contemporary origins. More importantly, I think it was absolutely right that Hampstead brought in Cressida Whyte from that original Birmingham production. It's a pivotal, if unassuming, role; one whose significance creeps up on you as the play progresses.
In the promotional text from Hampstead, the play is summarised as follows:
Malibu, California. The present.
Charles Darwin has wound up on a beach house overlooking the Pacific with a girl young enough to be his daughter. One hundred and forty five years have passed since the publication of The Origin of Species, and over a hundred and twenty years since Darwin's own death.
But his peace is rudely disturbed when his old friend Thomas Huxley washes up on the beach, closely followed by the Bishop of Oxford. And Darwin suddenly finds himself entangled in a sparkling comedy of life and death, love and loss, and the sex life of hermaphroditic barnacles.
...but in some ways, this synopsis is utterly inadequate to what happens and the emotional journey on which the performances take the audience. The debates are presented through a mix of farcical humour and philosophical/theological discourses. Characters shift from rambunctious verbose fools to psychologically wounded casualties of their personal misfortunes (no prizes for guessing whose character that applies to). Seemingly scatter-brained musings about beach-based encounters are rendered moving communiques across time and space, revealing deep truths - or at least potential interpretations - regardings the status of "life" and "death".
Whatever your standpoint on the debates about creationism, the "meaning of life" and the role of evolution in the modern world, this play was likely to touch a nerve within you (if only to stir furious thoughts). The performances were excellent; the staging beautifully intimate - did I say how wonderful it was to be in an audience of under 400? Overall, I am just delighted to been able to see this production at least once (oh how I wish...!) and in the inimitable phrasing of Mr Cloud "Oi'll give it foive"...