It's fascinating that process of genius. You have this spark of an idea which solves the whole problem people have been asking questions about. It only takes one person to make the link.”
So says Brighton-based John Hinton about his musical The Origin Of Species... which is returning to the city after a triumphant appearance at the Adelaide Fringe Festival earlier this year where it was shortlisted for the best theatre production and theatre performer awards.
“I started writing a play about Charles Darwin about 12 years ago,” says Hinton on a break from performing a 20-minute version of the musical at the Museum Of Natural History for half-term audiences.
“Back in 2007 someone alerted me that 2009 was going to be the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th year since The Origin Of Species was published. I thought if I’m ever going to unearth that old project it has got to be now!”
Going to Adelaide was like taking the show home, as Hinton penned the original musical in Australia’s Blue Mountains over a three-month period before it premiered at the Southwark Playhouse in 2008.
“Darwin had travelled around the area,” says Hinton. “It was nice to write there and be in touch with nature – I’m very into insects and they have slugs with tiger stripes on their backs, and massive ants that can give a very nasty sting!”
It was in the Blue Mountains that Hinton had his “lightbulb” moment of turning the story of Darwin into a musical.
“I wanted to really get the nuts and bolts of the theory of The Origin Of Species into the play,” he says. “I wanted to do it chapter by chapter through the book, but the scene was turning into a boring lecture. I just thought, ‘Why not do it as a song?’”
The musical, which has been to both the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes, takes place on the day a young scientist William Wallace gets in touch with Darwin to say he has come up with a theory identical to the one Darwin has spent the last 20 years formulating.
Abandoning his current work on barnacles, Darwin goes back through his life, and even a little into the future, as he explains his ideas and tells how he came to discover them. The audience are an integral part of the musical, playing the part of contemporary naturalists come to watch the great man at work.
“There are moments of deliberate anachronism where I play with theatrical conventions,” says Hinton.
“But I have been making sure I get the facts right. I have performed it more than 100 times, and it has been seen by scientists who have pointed little things out which have shaped it.”
His next musical on Albert Einstein is set to be peer-reviewed by a group of scientists from the beginning.
But Hinton spent last year performing Ragnarok – an apolocalyptic musical comedy inspired by Norse myth – which came to the Brighton Fringe.
“I knew I wanted to do another scientist, so I had to do something in between so the new scientist show wasn’t the same as the old one,” he says.
“I explored different ways of storytelling. I’m half-Swedish so I grew up with these stories.”
He is hoping to take his new Einstein musical to Adelaide in 2014, although there could be facial hair issues if he wants to do a science double bill.
“Every time I play Darwin I grow my beard,” he says. “I will have to find a way of doing them so that I can maybe do Darwin the first week, have a shave and play Einstein for the second week!”
- The Origin Of Species... is at Upstairs At Three And Ten, Steine Street, Brighton, on Wednesday, November 14. Starts 7.30pm, tickets from £7.50. For more details, call 07800 983290