28.4.13 How I met ARW

Sometimes you meet people that change your life. It doesn’t have to be a a figure who features regularly in your daily life. A chance meeting, an inspiring lecture, a slice of information gleaned from print , a family member.

In 2008, I met Alfred Russel Wallace. When I say ‘met’, I obviously have a degree of flexibility within the definition of the word. ARW died in 1913 – on November 7th. But he’s now a part of my life. His story has filtered into mine.

So, back to 2008. Geinor Jones is the artistic director of Theatr na nÓg. She speaks to Roy Davies and has an idea for a show about a Victorian Scientist. She talks to me. I kept bees. As it turns out, I also have a flair for growing a beard. Trevor Roache worked at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. He does’t have a beard. We perform for three weeks outdoors in the Wallace Gardens. Something feels different. A house sparrow joins me for the very first performance. He sits and watches. Not inquisitively; almost supervisory. Our stage manager has a daily meeting and conversation with a field mouse. I shake hands with a man in the front row who’s grandfather happens to be a certain Mr Wallace. DNA helix flows and weaves through the brassicas and the binds the pedestrian souls. A special three weeks. But this wasn’t going to be one of those productions satisfied to remain within the archive of theatrical memory. The momentum gains an energy.

We move from the Botanic Gardens to the National Museum in Cardiff. How can this story work promenading through a public space with no jurisdiction over audience numbers? “There’s three in the audience – good luck!”, says Geinor. We amble through the ceramics and stumble across a Penry Williams painting of Sgwd yr Henryd. Who’s guiding who? The audience has increased to 35. There’s quite a few families. Young children become engaged with Alfred’s story. They stay to hear the theory of evolution by natural selection. They stay. They remain engrossed. Who was this man?

We tour schools. We add set and some lights. We perform in theatres. We take away the set and the lights and perform anywhere we can. George Beccaloni becomes a navigator. He shows us the way to Rio de Janeiro. A Welsh ARW meets his Portuguese cousin. We perform in a favela and Bob guides us through the Maze. It is what it is.

ARW inspires in a way that consumes the essence of your curiosity and intellect. He was a maverick and a visionary. His story captivates the spirit of human endeavour. He had very little regard for the way we run our education system. That relationship appears mutual – his omission from the curriculum in 2013 is an indicator that little has changed from the time Wallace left school at the age of 14. However, this is a very busy year for our production that started in 2008. And that’s what I’ll explore next time.

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The plaque that appears on the incredible fossilised tree that is the fitting headstone for ARW

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