Play Reviews: First Light, Happiness, and Mr. Darwin’s Tree by Murray Watts

Dr. Jenny Wright, of South Africa, has attended Murray Watts’s three new plays and provided reviews of them. Have you seen the plays? Please respond to Jenny’s reviews and let us know what you think! Haven’t seen them yet? There’s still a few more days to see Happiness and First Light at the Playhouse at the Hawke and Hunter Green Room! They show until Monday, 29th August, and tickets are available from

Want to learn more about playwright Murray Watts? Please see our interview with him here.


Belief and Betrayal: Review of First Light

This mesmerising new play by Murray Watts demands much from its strong cast. Working well off each other, the four here in Edinburgh are more than equal to the challenge set by First Light. An outstanding performance by Natalie Burt as schoolgirl Merry brilliantly captures the now flirtatious, now sulky moods of a precocious and perceptive 14 going on 24 year-old. Moving displays of grief and anger when she speaks about the death of her father cannot do anything other than draw you into her world. Her youth and vulnerability are in turn contrasted and mirrored by Tom, teacher and chaplain, who is played thoughtfully and passionately by Andy Harrison. Trapped in grief, distractedly packing away his old books, he deftly plays a man struggling with the recent death of his wife, who finds himself alone and uncertain with his shaken beliefs.

First Light illuminates the issues of loss and abandonment, bereavement and grief, and eventually betrayed trust. These themes are explored through crisp dialogue and tense conflict that dances between innocence and attraction. Laurence Kennedy plays a head-teacher torn between loyalties and memories, with nuanced and revealing tension. The new houseparent, played by Jo Hole, adds another layer to a story that neatly questions who has lost their innocence and who is in control. First Light explores how our past is always inextricably linked with our future – be it broken trust or firm belief. The relationship between faith and individual freedom is touched upon briefly, leaving one wondering at what cost we are willing to buy complete freedom.

First Light is playing at The Playhouse at Hawke and Hunter Green Room until Monday August 29, 2011

(Dr Jenny Wright, Edinburgh)


Crumbling Dreams: Review of Happiness

We are drawn into an intensely passionate, and very personal exchange between a married couple on the night of their 14th wedding anniversary. They are uncertainly awaiting the arrival of American guests, who offer a naive salvation for their dream, which is the superficial origin of their argument. By turns they are angry, loving and condemning – lashing out at each other, reminiscing of the love they shared, drawn together by their dream, which is crumbling around them and finally ripped apart by a truth which threatens to destroy them.

As dark secrets emerge, blame is shifted from one to the other by the emotionally unstable and incredibly vulnerable Shelley (played brilliantly by Lucia McAnespie). Pushing her husband, Laurie (Simon Yadoo), away one minute and clinging to him the next, she often seems to be confronted by the ghosts of her past rather than the present reality, yet it is precisely for his failure to recognise the truth of this that she criticizes her husband.

Powerful dialogue entices the audience into the dining room with the couple, leaving no escape from their harsh words. Broken dreams, mistakes, learning to love, the choice to forgive and ultimately the search for happiness are powerful messages which emerge from this crumbling castle.

Happiness is playing at The Playhouse at Hawke and Hunter Green Room until Monday August 29, 2011.

(Dr Jenny Wright, Edinburgh)


Faith, Disbelief and Science: Review of Mr Darwin’s Tree

Powerful and beautiful images are conjured through Murray Watt’s rich script in Mr Darwin’s Tree. Andrew Harrison plays Darwin breathtakingly. The mystery and the beauty that surround him come alive through his extraordinary use of language, enabling the audience to see the world as he sees it. The poetic and passionately played monologues are interspersed with short informative lectures and bursts of dialogue, whose characters are captured remarkably well by Andrew Harrison.

We are drawn into Darwin’s inner turmoil as his scientific exploration pulls him into forbidden waters–the constant movement between faith and disbelief, at times driving him to despair, is hauntingly portrayed. The desperate desire he harbours to believe as his wife believes seems, at times, to be buried under his search for the truth, a truth that causes him great distress and much soul-searching. This captivating play gives a glimpse of Darwin the man, who is so often overshadowed by Darwin the scientist.

It is hoped that Mr Darwin’s Tree will return to Edinburgh in Autumn 2012.

(Dr Jenny Wright, Edinburgh)


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