Huxley’s Lab ***

If there were an award for best idea or concept, Huxley’s Laboratories would win hands down.  Grid Iron, one of Britain’s premiere theatrical thinkers, has joined forces with Lung Ha, an acclaimed theatre company noted for its social inclusion, to create a site-responsive promenade production about eugenics set in the University of Edinburgh’s brand new science building.  What an utterly brilliant idea.

And there are indeed moments of brilliance throughout the two-hour production.  The irony, however, is that nothing in the play matches the genius of its core concept.

Professor Huxley (kudos on the name, by the way) has created a lab that is able to engineer perfectly designed children.  Huxley himself is disabled, and he greatly desires to be remembered as the last of his kind.  The scientists that work under him are expected to follow strict rules of cleanliness and restrict human contact and emotion, while those that choose to procreate naturally have been exiled.

The debate on eugenics has been raging for a century, and there is no sign of any amicable solution in the nearby future.  Rather than stirring the debate or taking a stark stance, the production paints in broad strokes.  There’s nothing that’s overly daring or biting, and many times the easiest option is taken.

And yet, there are so many components to the production that are truly great that it is difficult to be too critical.  The space is wonderfully used throughout the performance and there are some terrific design flourishes.  There are some great moments of high theatricality.  Also, the ensemble is uniformly excellent and filled with stellar performances, particularly from Gail Watson, Sean Hay and Stephan Tait.

Even with so many strengths, Huxley’s Laboratories has too many missed opportunities.  The talent and ideas are clearly there but in the end it just feels too tame, and what could have been a thought-provoking response to one of the most important scientific debates in recent history is turned into palpable entertainment.  It is a very good production, but with a bit more daring it could have been brilliant.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland

Run ended

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