ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES
by Bryony Lavery.
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 2) 27 Arcola Street E8 2DJ To 21 November 2009.
Runs 1hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 November.
Darwin: the women’s cut.
Primavera productions only had to dig back a quarter-century to mark the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s death. Whereas archaeologist Molly, in Bryony Lavery’s 1984 two-hander, discovers a predecessor from four million years ago. She names this woman after her grandmother, before slipping her home to Yorkshire – made easier because ‘Victoria’ is merely a woman, not the hairy male Molly had gone to Tanzania to find.
In a thrilling moment Molly, before being hijacked for some heavy-duty Feminism, quotes a male writer approvingly, telling the still inarticulate, apprehensive Victoria that her brain potentially carries all human greatness.
It’s a play of ideas as a fairytale (Molly wakes her predecessor with a kiss). If the first part shows Molly teaching Victoria words and imagination, the second has the archaeologist learning from the excavation, realising that it was women who created fire from the example of volcanoes.
Less happily, Molly – who has several clocks in the room and opens by relating creation’s timescale to a page-a-day diary – ends lamenting the tyranny of clocks, and by implication all man-made regulation. This is, of course, Molly not necessarily Lavery speaking, and Molly has natural enough swings of exaltation and concern in getting to know Victoria. But what’s her point? The opposite of science is ignorance or superstition, while the last quarter-century has uncovered women’s forgotten role in scientific advances.
More directly Lavery’s is the use, as with children’s evidence in child abuse trials, of a doll to reveal how men have mutilated women to control them. But if this angle sticks out like a sore thumb it does so from the strong hand played elsewhere. Marjorie Yates’ Yorkshirewoman, contained and ironic yet with moments of enthusiasm, and Clare-Hope Ashitey’s Victoria, growing from animal wariness through struggles with a new language to independent confidence, are finely contrasted, up to the melancholy happy ending.
Tom Littler’s production allows the fine performers to create a warmth that can accommodate shock or anger in a finely-tuned evening, given further coherence by Victoria Johnstone’s set, where a solid modern chair and tea-table are built over the sands of time.
Molly: Marjorie Yates.
Victoria: Clare-Hope Ashitey.
Director: Tom Littler.
Designer/Costume: Victoria Johnstone.
Lighting: Christopher Nairne.
Sound: Victoria Wilkinson.
Composer: Tom Attwood.
Musical Director/Choreographer: Tim Jackson.
Assistant director: Alev Scott.