Huxley’s Lab

Apr 5 2010 | By More


Informatics Forum, Crichton Street: April 2010

A brave new collaboration has been born at Edinburgh University’s informatics building on Crichton Street. Edinburgh’s Lung Ha’s and Gridiron theatre companies have teamed up to create a piece of work challenging the scientists to think long and hard about what they are doing.

Using the Informatic Forum’s echoing atrium as the backdrop, with its iconic spiral staircases jutting out over the floor below, Huxley’s Lab starts by questioning how we think about genetic selection and eugenics, the science of removing physical imperfections from humanity.

Stephan Tait as Huxley. Photo: Douglas Jones

Stephan Tait as Huxley. Photo: Douglas Jones

The two theatre companies have brought their own abilities to the production. Lung Ha’s are a professional company of 25 years who create productions with learning disabled performers – some of the very people eugenics would like to stop being born.

Gridiron are a prize-winning site-specific company. Well-versed in the art of moving audiences around non-theatre spaces, they have no problem with turning the public areas, staircases and lecture theatres of the building into the home of Huxley Laboratories.

This is a world where babies are grown in test-tubes. A few embryos go on to become perfect specimens, most have their intellectual growth halted to create a menial workforce, but all are fed on soma to keep them calm and conditioned to ensure they are happy with their place in society.

Made up with performers from both companies, the cast guide their audience around the centre as if they were applicants to join the elite of Huxley’s Lab. As the tour progresses from the growing pools to lecture hall and recreation suite – by way of the garden with “normals” who indulge in natural procreation – a drama unfolds beyond the scenery of Huxley’s lab.

social programming

It’s simple stuff. In a society where relationships are forbidden, Carmen Pieraccini’s Dr Wells and Ben Winger’s Dr Galton are developing an affair. And in this test-tube baby world, does Sean Hay, as the lab’s Head of Birth Management, have a family relationship to Mark Howie’s Mark Davenport?

The birthing pool. Photo: Douglas Jones

The birthing pool. Photo: Douglas Jones

There is more than a nod to Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World, here. And while the most obvious concern is eugenics, there is a deeper one about social programming and creating a world in which people are stripped of their humanity in favour of efficiency.

Clearly there is no suggestion that the Informatics Forum is involved in any dodgy eugenics business. But the real concern here is a fundamental one for anyone involved in cutting-edge science, that there must be an ethical dimension when it comes to the application of laboratory-created scientific model to a real-life situation.

With strong performances all round and brilliant stage management, this Science Festival project uses the most simple of storytelling tools to ask a truly profound and relevant question. It’s not perfect, but that, in itself, seems completely right.

Run ends Thursday

Link to the Huxley’s Lab website

The normals. Photo: Douglas Jones

The normals. Photo: Douglas Jones


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