Darwin & FitzRoy by Juliet Aykroyd was produced by the Progress Theatre in association with WAM, the Festival of Weather, Arts and Music in the UK and was performed from September 8-13, 2014. The Progress Theatre is a member of The Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain and the National Operatic and Dramatic Association and is located in Reading, UK. Sir Kenneth Branagh is the theatre's Patron and Steph Weller is the theatre's Chair.
Centered on the three-decade long relationship between Charles Darwin and Robert FitzRoy, the play addresses not only their personal, often stormy, relationship, but also their profound individual contributions to science.
"One was the father of evolution; the other the father of meteorology. Both men changed the world – but while one man is revered, the other is forgotten. Set during the voyage of the Beagle and in later years, Darwin & FitzRoy plots the friendship and tension between Charles Darwin and the Beagle's captain, Robert FitzRoy. Both men of science and men of faith, Juliet Aykroyd's witty and poignant play charts the relationship between two giants of modern science on their celebrated voyage around the world, and catalogues the demons besetting both." Progress Theatre (2014).
"Juliet Aykroyd's Darwin & Fitzroy is the first published play in nearly a century and a half to document the complex, often turbulent relationship between two giants of English history and science, Charles Darwin and Robert FitzRoy." Juliet England, Alt Reading.
"…the atmosphere was spot on, creating a feeling of voyage and discover." Caroline Cook, getreading.
"Parallels are what make this production so unique as it explores the differences in character between the two men, the boundaries between religion and science, the differences between cultures and the changes that occur over time." Lily Brown, jelly.org.uk.
THIRSTY had the opportunity to visit with Steph Weller, the producer, and Kate Shaw, the director of Darwin & FitzRoy, to discuss the production after the run of the play had concluded.
THIRSTY: Why did the Progress Theatre choose Darwin & FitzRoy for its fall schedule?
STEPH WELLER: Our production formed the centerpiece of a weeklong festival produced in collaboration with Weather, Arts and Music (WAM) – Pierrette Thomet - Director. Each night we had a pre-show event related to the themes of the play: a talk on Robert FitzRoy; a discussion exploring the thorny issue of faith within science, mirroring the conflict that developed between creationist FitzRoy and evolutionist Darwin upon publication of his famous theory; a presentation on old ships' logs including the Beagle's; a recital inspired by songs of the sea. These proved an excellent way of setting the scene for the play, and provided extra value for the audience. However, these aren't necessary for an understanding of the play or themes within it; the full-length play stands alone as a piece of theatre.
April 30, 2015 will mark 150 years since Robert FitzRoy tragically took his own life so 2015 would be a fitting year for groups across the country to produce the play. FitzRoy is buried in Upper Norwood, so it would be of particular poignancy were local groups to mount a production of this play next year.
THIRSTY: How was your production received?
STEPH WELLER: I was particularly pleased to hear such positive comments from our own membership and "regulars" – whilst we expected the show to play well to our target audience of scientists, meteorologists and historians, it was gratifying to have our members come up and say how much they enjoyed it, and how interesting they found it; they were genuinely surprised.
THIRSTY: What drew you to want to direct Darwin & FitzRoy?
KATE SHAW: It is very clear what Darwin and Fitzroy each believed in, but the nuances of character are what make for such an interesting script – there is no right or wrong here, just two men and their relative places in history.
The very question of why one is a household name and the other nearly unheard of outside the meteorological world is a fascinating one. It's not necessarily clear who you're meant to "root for" but rather that you see that the outcome of an action isn't always a reflection of the instigator. I think I can speak for my actors when I say that we all enjoyed pulling apart these two men to try and find out what made them tick.
THIRSTY: What was your approach to directing this play?
KATE SHAW: It was gratifying to grapple with the emotional journey of both men and their relationship to each other and the changing world. There is plenty to play with – how far do you push Fitzroy; how much does Darwin change from a naive Cambridge graduate to a hard man of science. We decided not to try and recreate Darwin and Fitzroy as "living biographies" but rather we let the script work for us and pulled out the emotional moments which bring the story alive.
Finally, the sense of history that I got out of the play was one of the most powerful lasting impressions. I was woefully ignorant of Robert Fitzroy and his work and am now a huge fan! The shipping forecast, weather forecasting, the voyage of the Beagle – these are all things which are in the public consciousness and permeate modern culture and to discover their origins is something wonderful. We performed this play as part of the Weather, Arts and Music Festival (WAM) and this play really seems to cross the science and art divide. I felt we reached new audiences and many people commented to me that they were both entertained and yet really learned something.
YOUNG DARWIN……….MICHAEL BEAKHOUSE
YOUNG FITZROY……….CHRISTOPHER HOULT
OLD DARWIN………………….….JIM MCCLURE
OLD FITZROY……………….STEVE HAVERCAN
The Progress Theatre production of Darwin & FitzRoy was made possible
by special arrangement with Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.