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10th June 2014, 07:00 PM
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Theatre Review by Lisa Romeo
What: The Rap Guide To Evolution
Where: Arts Centre Melbourne
When: 6th and 7th June
Written and performed by Baba Brinkman
Music and Turntablism by Jamie Simmonds
The Rap Guide to Evolution is presented by Arts Centre Melbourne in association with Merrigong Theatre Company. Baba Brinkman (born in 1978) is a Canadian rapper and playwright best known for recordings and performances that combine hip hop music with literature, theatre and science. He seems very ‘straight laced’ for a rapper, no gold chains, tattoos, caps, or low hanging jeans, but despite the appearance he raps with great passion and is very good at it.
In The Rap Guide to Evolution Brinkman’s message is predominantly about spreading the word of Charles Robert Darwin (1809 –1882) who is best known for his contributions to the evolutionary theory; he established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors. Darwin published his theory of evolution with compelling evidence in his 1859 book On the Origins of Species. By the 1870s the scientific community and much of the general public had accepted evolution as a fact.
The Fairfax Studio stage displays a magnificently large image of Charles Darwin as the backdrop, while another screen displays a quote from Darwin “Whoever is led to believe that species are mutable, will do good service by conscientiously expressing his conviction, for only thus can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed, be removed”. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species.
Apart from the backdrops the stage is empty, occupied only by a microphone, and in the far right corner a turntable and it’s operator, Jamie Simmonds, looking very cool as he is warming up and providing some introductory music as the audience are seated. As the show progresses Simmonds proves to be one of the great highlights, his turntablism is excellent and we learn that he is not only a great turntabler, but he wrote most of the music for the show himself. Full credit should be given to this Millennium Award winning DJ for his outstanding work.
The Rap Guide to Evolution is part theatre, part gig and part TED talk (Technology, Entertainment, Design); it certainly explains evolution in a whole new way. Throughout the performance an extraordinary audio-visual show supports the narrative, showing film clips of very famous rap artists and images of evolutionary theories and designs, not unlike a university lecture. Brinkman’s style is fresh, brave and radical. It is difficult to establish his desired audience - the two obvious parties that would most be interested in his theatre are on separate sides of the spectrum - at one end are the hard core rappers, at the other the science professionals, pro evolutionists (indeed the hard core rappers could themselves be science professionals). The creationists would want to hear his message too no doubt.
These are a difficult target audience to impress. However Brinkman has and continues to succeed. The Rap Guide to Evolution premiered at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, winning the Edinburgh Fringe First Award for Best New Theatre Writing. In 2010 the UK's largest biomedical charity, the Wellcome Trust, provided grant funding for Brinkman to make a series of educational music; it completed a five-month Off-Broadway theatre run in November 2011, for which Brinkman received a 2012 Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance.
This is a ‘must see’ show for anyone with a taste for original theatre and smart beats; using clever re-workings of popular rap singles as well as Brinkman’s own originals, it combines poetry and wit, and the lyrics are powerful and accurate, illustrating the facts of Natural Selection, Sexual Selection, Evolutionary Psychology and much more. I believe it would make a great resource for Secondary School classrooms and it would certainly be a unique approach to the fundamental teachings of Science and Biology. I’m sure it would be well received by the teenage students. I took my 23 year old son along, who has always loved Rap and Hip Hop music and he was impressed by the show and the messages it was trying to convey.
4.5 Stars