BBC World Service, 14 February 2009
Vocally speaking, Alex Jennings strikes me as an interesting performer.
His calm, measured tones suggest someone in control of himself, yet simultaneously loth to disclose his feelings in public.
Not that such traits are characteristic of the actor; they are just typical of the kind of roles he plays. Like Confessing
a Murder proved no exception. Drawn from the letters and diaries of Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, Craig Baxter's
play traced the scientist's life from his humble origins to the time when The Origin of the Species was published.
During the hour-long play we learned about his idyllic marriage, his ever-increasing brood of children (no contraception in
those days!), his persistent illnesses, and his travels in far-off climes, during which time he evolved the idea which ultimately
changed people's way of thinking about human beings.
And yet what emerged most tangibly from Ruth Evans's production was Darwin's introspective
nature. Despite being a devoted family man, living in a large roomy house just outside London (now open to the public), it
seemed that he could only communicate his thoughts to listeners through asides. Direct dialogue with Emma (Oona Beeson) was
sporadic, to say the least, focusing exclusively on mundane topics - the house or the children's health. Emma retained a passionate
devotion to her husband, but rarely seemed able to get through to him. For his part Darwin refrained from talking about his
scientific insights, unless he knew he was on his own.
Baxter reinforced our understanding of Victorian values, especially the idea that
home and work should be kept separate (providing the justification for a male to keep a mistress should be so wish). But whether
this strategy rendered the play dramatic is another matter. At times I felt we were listening to a series of Pinteresque monologues
delivered by two characters who seldom interacted with one another. This might have been historically accurate, but I kept
wondering whether Like Confessing a Murder might have worked better as a drama-documentary, combining narration with
extracts from Darwin's writing.
Nonetheless the play confirmed my belief that Alex Jennings is vocally incapable
of giving a duff performance. For this, director Evans deserves congratulation.