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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

After Darwin

Timberlake Wertenbaker

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To purchase After Darwin

Title: After Darwin
Author: Timberlake Wertenbaker
Genre: Drama
Written: 1998
Length: 74 pages
Availability: in Plays 2 - US
After Darwin - UK
in Plays 2 - UK
After Darwin - Canada
in Plays 2 - Canada
  • After Darwin was first performed 8 July 1998, at the Hampstead Theatre, London, in a production directed by Lindsay Posner

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Our Assessment:

B : fine drama -- until it ultimately goes awry

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Int'l Herald Tribune . 15/7/1998 Sheridan Morley

  From the Reviews:
  • "This update on evolution confirms Wertenbaker's theatrical courage, if not always her stage skills. (...) After Darwin gets into logistical trouble only when the latter-day drama of the actors in the pub threatens to become more interesting than the original conflict between Fitzroy and Darwin." - Sheridan Morley, International Herald Tribune

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       After Darwin offers a play-within-a-play. It begins with Charles Darwin and the captain of The Beagle, Robert FitzRoy -- briefly seen first in 1865, then in 1831 as FitzRoy decides to let Darwin join him on his expedition, the trip that would provide Darwin with the basis for his book on The Origin of Species.
       In fact, however, the scenes between the two men are scenes from a play, and eventually the actors, Tom (Darwin) and Ian (FitzRoy) step out of their roles -- joined by Millie, the director, and later by the playwright, Lawrence. The play being rehearsed centres on the clash between god-fearing FitzRoy and Darwin, as Darwin's findings threaten to completely undermine all that FitzRoy believes. It is a game of survival of the fittest -- complicated by questions of ethics.
       It's a sound basis for a drama, and for much of After Darwin Wertenbaker presents this struggle for survival very well. The primary struggle is nicely echoed in a secondary one between the actors: Tom is naturally gifted, an acting idiot savant (Millie gives him books on Darwin to study, but he only looks at the pictures), and earnest Ian is frustrated because Tom can play his role effortlessly, while Ian struggles to succeed in his. Additional complications arise when Tom -- who has no scruples -- tells Ian he has auditioned for a film, knowing that if he gets the part he will leave the play, which then presumably can't go on without him.
       Unfortunately, Wertenbaker can't leave well enough alone, and instead of relying solely on this she lays it on much thicker: Millie is a Bulgarian wannabe emigrée (and, it turns out, a wannabe director) struggling for survival too (needing the play to succeed in order to remain in Britain). And Lawrence is a black American, also struggling, and Tom is homosexual .....
       Wertenbaker's choices -- for the pivotal moment between Darwin and FitzRoy, and for what Ian does to ensure that Tom will do the play -- disappoint, melodramatic ends that bludgeon the audience with her message. It's a shame, because much of the play is well done, the shifting relationships between Darwin and FitzRoy and the actors who play them nicely conveyed, in dialogue that is clever and, where need be, amusing. But ultimately there's too little subtlety, and the battle of survival of the fittest to rawly presented.

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After Darwin: Reviews: Timberlake Wertenbaker: Other plays by Timberlake Wertenbaker under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker was born in the US in 1951.

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