When I walked to my seat and sat down facing the set at Downstage Theatre, Wellington, I experienced such disappointment that I complained about it to my husband during the entire 10 min before the show started: the set was far too white, Victorians would have neither white curtains nor white window-frames in a gentleman's study, the carpet was insipid, the furniture boring, beige and tired, the only picture a lone ancestor in a heavy frame. At some point in all this whingeing, a thought did run quickly through the back of my mind that there might be a reason for the blank walls, should one trust that they knew what they were doing, but the complaining was stronger.
From the moment the play started, I forgot about all that and was riveted. The movement on the stage was so dynamic, so expressive of what the characters were feeling, they were so original and natural in their interactions that I was delighted and fascinated. I have rarely enjoyed a play as much. I found I now liked the set, the roominess which gave the characters plenty of scope, the blank walls which became screens onto which people's shadows or luminescent colours, - greens and purples, blues and reds, very satisfying hues - were projected. I have often seen Peter Hambleton perform and felt this was one of his best performances - the moment when young Thomas brings his Big Idea to him and his heart sinks - I felt it viscerally.
The play itself pleased me, oh yes it is pleasing: the humour - how Science, in the shape of an increasingly cringeing but dogged servant, keeps intruding on Mrs Darwin's intimacy with her husband, the fight she leads to be the One and Only in his life, her battle with his obsession, his respect for hers. Never does Darwin say what might upset her - that is left to the other protagonists, Roberts, the man of faith and Thomas, the young upstart scientist. Both evolve and change believably and shockingly in the course of the play. Themes are interwoven - reproduction, fecundity, kinship, 'the most important part of a tree', a man's life work, the meaning of children, of religion, publish or be damned, various ambitions, different kinds of intimacy, and love and trust, hope and despair.
I think it must become a classic.