A dramatisation of the correspondence between Charles Darwin and Asa Gray was commissioned by the Darwin Project, and written by Cambridge playwright, Craig Baxter. It was developed for the stage by director Paul Bourne of the Menagerie Theatre Company, Cambridge, UK.
The drama, titled Re:Design, uses entirely Darwin’s own words and those of his correspondents
taken from their letters and from reminiscences. It chronicles the relationship between Darwin and Asa Gray over nearly forty years, with particular reference to their intimate discussions of the implications of their scientific work for their personal beliefs and for religious belief in general. Since 2007, performances of this work have been given in Cambridge, UK, and several other cities worldwide.
A podcast about the dramatisation, introduced by Carol Vorderman, was made for the Cambridge University Science Festival 2007 and is available here. It includes footage from a specially commissioned performance by Menagerie Theatre Company, directed by Paul Bourne, featuring Terry Molloy as Charles Darwin, Matthew Hendrickson as Asa Gray, and Patrick Morris as an archivist browsing
About the script
Re:Design is a dramatic layering of original texts: the original, written words of Charles Darwin, Asa Gray and their contemporaries. It represents only a small proportion of the words exchangd and (it is like confessing a murder) I have taken some liberties with the chronology. I’m a dramatist, not a scholar but, despite my slippery, showbusinessy tricks, I have tried hard to remain true to the essence of these extraordinary 19th-century gents and the world in which they operated.
Drama can be a complement to scholarship. It is a social activity, great for generating interest and enthusiasm, for allowing ideas and emotions to brush up close against each other. It is a medium of empathy, it can help us feel a little of what it must have been like to be Charles Darwin or Asa Gray or Joseph Hooker. it shows us that the truth resides not only in the texts themselves but in the subtext too. You see a man reporting the results of an experiment while mourning the death of his child. You see another collecting postage stamps for his friend’s children while his country is at war. you see great men of science exchanging information, laughing at themselves, exchanging photographs, sharing oneanother’s tragedies and triumphs, inspiring one another. You see and hear them engaging with the issues of their day, frequently disagreeing with one another, but with an eloquence and grace and humour sometimes missing from present-day debates.
Craig Baxter, March 2007
Several versions of the script have been produced. Two of them are available here for download. The 2008 script is for two actors and is available here. As well as being performed by Menagerie, this script has been used by several amateur groups. The original three actor script used for the Cambridge Science Festival 2007 performances is also available.
A third revison of the script, performed during the Darwin 2009 festival and introducing a new character – a present-day film-maker researching Darwin and Gray’s correspondence – is available via Craig’s agent (see details on the right).