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The Selfish Gene: The Musical
Published on Monday, 15 August 2011

5 stars

Zoo Roxy (venue website)
5-14, 16-20 Aug, 12:30pm-1:40pm
Reviewed by Lee Zhao

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Although Richard Dawkins is now better known as a militant crusader for atheism, he was also a highly respected evolutionary biologist and a best-selling science writer. His breakthrough book, The Selfish Gene, presented an argument for how human morality, kindness and altruism could evolve from the cold, ruthless, selfish nature of Darwinian natural selection.

This doesn't exactly sound like the perfect book to adapt into a musical. And early into the corny chorus of the first number, I feared the worst. But by the end of the show, I was utterly bowled over. This musical is an absolute gem that I was not expecting at all, and epitomises what the Fringe is about.

The writers have done an excellent job of communicating the ideas laid out in the book onto the stage: genetic investment, the conspiracy of doves, memes. This has been done partially through monologues from an actor playing Dawkins, but also through song and a succession of domestic scenes revolving around the Adamson family and its head, Daniel Neil.

Selfish Gene has fun parodying the Brian Cox style of science documentary, as the fourth wall between 'Dawkins' the observing narrator and the Adamsons is not quite as thick as he would have hoped. It was also nice to see that the writing in these scenes was equally delightful, with some wonderfully sharp dialogue and witty lines. This helped the show still feel like a show and not a biology lecture.

Admittedly, setting some of the more technical aspects such as evolutionary stable strategies to a rhyme structure proved less successful. But though some of the song lyrics were a little forced, the music and repetition actually helped cement the message. 'Dawkins' was excellently performed and the acting was strong across the rest of the supporting cast. Vocally, there was slight variance in the abilities which led to a few balance issues, but nothing to get hung up over.

Sure, anyone who's read the book won't learn anything new from the musical, and will probably already know how the story is going to end and what the take-away message of the piece is.  I do recommend reading The Selfish Gene (you may disagree with Dawkins' social views, but he's a fine writer); but for those who haven't, seeing Selfish Gene: The Musical is pretty good substitute.  Watching this has made me want to pick up the book again, and I know that will make at least one Oxford professor of evolutionary biology happy.

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