Library of Ideas: Creative Use of The British Library

We are now coming up to almost a year since our residency, funded by the Arts Council, began here at the British Library as their First Associate Theatre Company. What has evolved as one of the main aims of the project has been to help open the British Library up to other artists who may want to access the library for inspiration and research of their own creative projects.

My time here has really rationalised and prioritised what is important and necessary for me as an artist and I have learnt that I love research and it is integral to my artistic process. The more rigorously and specifically you understand material, the more distinct and original it will make your artistic work. So, spending time in and with the collections gives you the rare time and space to really go deep into a subject. It is about making unexpected and surprising connections between remote pieces of research, and the result of such connections is where you start to create something new. As an artist I am always looking to gather as much 'fuel' for my process as possible, stimulus, data, information, knowledge and details. The British Library is the optimum resource for this. Not only does it have 'everything'(!), it also enables you to come at a topic in a diversity of ways, sound, image, digital, archive, maps... and all this inspires in a different way, it really makes you think about the 'how' of your work, in other words, not just what your project will say and contain, but how it will be made, crafted, the form it will take.

A particular highlight of my time here has been spending time in the Ballard archive which is looked after by curator, Christopher Beckett. The archive is extensive and Chris has written here a fantastic overview and introduction to the archive: 

Whilst it is not as personal as some of the archives held here, in that it holds very little in the way of private correspondence, it is a brilliant insight into the process of a great artist. Ballard wrote a lot of his novels by hand and many of his typescripts are heavily annotated. As you start to work through the archive you begin to stitch together a sense of his process. You can learn so much from seeing his choices of what to edit or reword. Particularly memorable was coming across his wire bound notebooks, which appear to contain early brainstormings of ideas and concepts for his novels. It is unusual to have such private access to the earliest thoughts of such a great artist and its quite special to unpick how he works through his ideas and begins his projects. 

What this has all been building to will now be shared in our events that celebrate the culmination of our residency here. The' Library of Ideas' is an free event very close to my heart on Sunday 22nd April. Acknowledging that the British Library holds a wealth of materials which are increasingly being used as inspiration for artists and creative, this event aims to encourage early-career artists into the British Library so that they can discover how they can use the Library to develop their own artistic projects. It's a rare opportunity to meet curators and get up close to some of our collections. You will have the opportunity to 'bid' for your chosen experience and then meet the curator and hear from them about the most exciting elements in their collections; everything from sound to manuscripts to digital! It's about putting the curators centre stage. Its free – book your place now!


Topic 1 - Dystopia and JG Ballard Archive

In conversation with Laura Farnworth, Artistic Director of Undercurrent 

How did you begin with the Ballard Archive?

I have always had an interest in Ballard and found that his work somehow gets under my skin. I once made a show called ‘Floor 44’, written by Lydia Adetunji and we used Ballard’s ‘High Rise’ as an inspiration. When I heard his archive was held here I knew that I would want to spend some time working through it. I began with meeting Chris Beckett a Curator here at the British Library. Chris catalogued Ballard’s archive and so is very familiar with the contents. Chris helped me understand the archive and its contents and provided me with some starting points for my research. A very useful tool was Chris’ essay ‘The Progress of the Text: The Papers of J.G. Ballard at the British Library’ - this is a great introduction to Ballard and the archive. ’'

Did you have a plan or did it evolve as it went along?

I always spend a little time scoping my research at the outset, otherwise I find the research is directionless. This involves establishing a few starting points and leads, and perhaps a few questions that I want to explore in the topic. In the case of Ballard, the decision to research his archive had in fact evolved from a general interest of dystopian worlds. I gave myself a short reading list of Ballard’s work to begin from and also spent a couple of days actually working my way through the archive to get a ‘feel’ of what was there. This gave me an overview, and allowed me then to direct my research into specific items. Inevitably the research does evolve, and I think this is when you know the research is working with you. I like to be surprised and for the research to take on its own momentum.

Were there different forms of content in the archive? How did you work with those? 

The Ballard archive is not a particularly ‘personal’ archive - by that I mean it is not like other archives that contain lots of diaries and letters. What it does contain is a vast amount of annotated transcripts of his works (Ballard liked to handwrite his drafts before typing them). You begin to get a sense of his process through his notes and annotations. I also found some faxes which stood out to me, where Ballard had prepared answers to journalist’s questions. These I thought gave a very interesting insight into Ballard’s world view, albeit they are obviously crafted for the press. There were a few personal items, such as ‘get well’ and ‘father’s day’ cards from his children and grandchildren, and Ballard’s passports. Near the end of my research I came across some of his notebooks and these were particularly fascinating where you can read how Ballard scopes out a story and concept.

If you were to take this work further what are the steps you would need to take?

To really appreciate the extent of his archive I would now want to read a lot more of his work, his novels and short stories. This would give me a greater appreciation of seeing the notations and comments he makes on his documents, and a closer insight into Ballard’s artistic process. I would also want to spend more time with his visual materials and films.

What are the top 3 things that excited you in the Ballard Archive and why?

1. His notebooks - seeing his concepts and ideas in embryo 

2. A transcript of ‘Concrete Island’ - an unpublished film script

3. His annotations - seeing how Ballard edited and commented on his own work is an insight into his making and writing process

What potential art pieces could you see coming out of working with this Archive?

I’d be interested to play with some of the concepts he discusses and brainstorms in his notebooks and see where perhaps I might run with these same ideas as a theatre maker. There are characters and conflicts and places listed - a perfect platform to begin improvising from with actors and begin talks with a writer. It would be intriguing to see where we ended up with his ideas. 

How has this experience shaped your thoughts as you start to work with a new archive?

Allowing myself to be both structured in my research, but also allow for ‘grazing’ time. Balancing between the two I think makes for the most fruitful process, where you can allow yourself to stumble across a gem, but also recognise that you need to keep yourself stimulated and engaged with some guiding starting points and questions. Plus simply, don’t underestimate how much time it takes to read!

If someone wanted to find this archive where would we need to look?

If you go on the British Library 'Explore Archives and Manuscripts' these are shelfmarks for some of the items:

Notebooks: ADD MS 88938/3/27/1

Passports: ADD MS 88938/1/3

Faxes to press: ADD MS 88938/4

Works: ADD MS 88938/3


Undercurrent Theatre announced as British Library’s first Associate Theatre Company

Today we have been announced as the British Library’s first Associate Theatre Company! In a year-long residency, the Associateship will open up the British Library’s unparalleled collections to a diverse range of users, through innovative engagement with the Library’s public, cultural and creative audiences. Working closely with Library curators, we plan to facilitate and generate new cross-cultural opportunities.

We will research eight topics whilst in residence and host opportunities for artists to delve into this research, opening up the possibility of future partnerships. It is our aim that this research will not only lead to new productions for Undercurrent, but will also be a source of inspiration for many other artists in developing creative projects. The residency will culminate in mid 2018 with two public performance events at the British Library.

Our partnership began in 2016 with our critically acclaimed production ‘Calculating Kindness’. This production was researched over three years using the personal archives of evolutionary biologists George Price and W.D. Hamilton archives which are held at the Library. The play brought to the public the little known true story of George Price, and inspired Price’s own daughters to donate further papers of the father to the British Library and travel to the UK to lay a headstone at his previously unmarked grave. The play ran at the Camden People’s Theatre in London to excellent reviews and plans for a wider tour are currently in progress.

Roly Keating, the British Library’s Chief Executive, said: “We are thrilled to welcome Undercurrent Theatre as our first Associate Theatre Company, following our previous successful collaboration on Calculating Kindness last year.

We are committed to exploring the rich potential of the Library’s collections as sites of creative inspiration and are hugely looking forward to working with Undercurrent, through this Associateship, to continue opening up the Library and its collections to new audiences and communities.”


Undercurrent Theatre Artistic Director Laura Farnworth said:
“We are delighted to be starting this residency at the British Library. As a company our mission is to uncover and explore extraordinary stories. We see the British Library as the home of all stories, and can’t imagine a better place to reside and be inspired to create future work for new audiences.”

Undercurrent Theatre Executive Producer Sophie Cornell said:

““This Associateship and support from Arts Council England allows us precious artistic research time, which is so often over-looked and under-funded. This will ensure we can reach out into the artistic community and test a research-residency model.”


We are a London-based theatre company who unearth extraordinary real life stories with fearless imagination. We gather oceans of material which are interrogated, filtered and molded into exhilarating and aesthetically bold experiences for audiences across the U.K. Specialising in research-based performance our artistic process centres around a piece of rigorous research and includes weeks of development time which brings the design team into the heart of the collaborative process.

Follow the residency @uk_undercurrent, or by signing up to Undercurrent’s mailing list .




'Calculating Kindness' article published in Mosaic magazine

The man who gave himself away.

How discovering an equation for altruism cost George Price everything. By Michael Regnier.

Laura met George in the pages of Reader’s Digest. In just a couple of column inches, she read an abridged version of his biography and was instantly intrigued. In the 1960s, apparently, egotistical scientist George Price discovered an equation that explained the evolution of altruism, then overnight turned into an extreme altruist, giving away everything up to and including his life.

A theatre director, Laura Farnworth recognised the dramatic potential of the story. It was a tragedy of Greek proportions – the revelation of his own equation forcing Price to look back on his selfish life and mend his ways, even though choosing to live selflessly would lead inexorably to his death. But as she delved into his life and science over the next five years, Farnworth discovered a lot more than a simple morality tale...

Read the full article here.

Third award nomination for Calculating Kindness

Calculating Kindness has been nominated for a third Off West End award (Offies), this time for BEST NEW PLAY - Laura Farnworth and Lydia Adetunji.

This complements the previous nominations:



Q&A with Calculating Kindness Sound Designer & Composer, Nick Rothwell

Nick Rothwell (Sound Designer and Composer for Calculating Kindness) writes and uses software to generate algorithmic sound and visuals for arts and performance projects, usually working in collaboration with choreographers, performers, directors and artists in other disciplines.

Tell us about what you found interesting in the process of making Calculating Kindness?

Actually, I was a little apprehensive about working on the project when I was first approached about it! While I've done a lot of work with choreographers and composed dozens of scores for dance, theatre is a very different medium, with a distinct and much less abstract structure, so I wasn't sure my experience and working process would mesh with the project. But it soon became clear that the play would be set, in a sense, partly within George Price's mind, so the kinds of abstract patterning I use in dance could work here. And it also became clear that Laura wanted to work in an agile devising process, which is more familiar territory. This is really my first deep exposure to the construction of a play rather than a choreographic work, and working alongside actors rather than dancers: it's been fascinating to participate in a shaping process revolving around words rather than movement.

How has it differed to other processes you've been involved in?

Most obviously, it's script-based, and while dance works with cues, it tends not to have a canonical reference script in the same sense. In a play, cues tend to run from stage to score, while in dance it generally goes the other way - so the software tools I generally use to set up scenes, loops, layers and transitions in music had to be drastically reprogrammed. I also had to turn the volume down! In dance you want to mask the sound on stage, while in theatre it's rather important to be able to hear it.

Differences aside, many of the processes I'd use in making a sound score for dance - for shaping ambient textures, for example - crossed over into this project fairly smoothly. Rhythmic material was a bit trickier, since the cadences of spoken word aren't the same as the physics of movement.

How have you mixed treated the crossovers between science and art?

I'm actually a mathematician by (very early, mostly forgotten) training, and got a Ph.D. in Computer Science before working in music and visuals, so I've been crossing over in some sense for a while. I think there's a tendency (in the arts funding scene, specifically) to fabricate an artificial distinction between the disciplines before making a big deal of connecting them again. Having said that, mathematics and science are rather different: mathematics is about patterning (and a lot of my music is built from generative patterns), while science is a process of formulating and testing hypotheses. Mathematics and music (and visual art) fit together neatly; science and art connect most interestingly, I think, in the intuitive leaps which constitute progress.

What musical influences have you taken for the music/sound design?

I tend not to work according to deliberate influences, but whenever I assemble a set of tools for a new project some subconscious selection takes place - and often it's a bit of an arbitrary selection from scratch, to kick things off in a unique direction. It wasn't my original intention to use a sample library of a Mellotron (a 1960s magnetic tape-based keyboard), but I had one to hand, and it worked perfectly as the core of one scene. Similarly, another scene is a processed field recording of a 3D printer, because there was one printing on my desk while I was mapping out some musical structures. I have to admit that one strong influence crept in at the last minute: there's an obvious late-1970s Klaus Schulze-style melody line somewhere in the score if you listen closely.

How have you related the Price equation to your design/compositions?

Well, several tracks assembled early in the rehearsal phase were deemed not to have enough fitness traits to survive into the final soundtrack...! But many years ago I built an evolving soundscape installation fed from an artificial life simulation (complete with genetic mutation and competition for resources), so I'm now wondering about coding up the Price Equation to see whether it could be used to steer a compositional process.

Reviews for 'Calculating Kindness' are in

The reviews are in! Here's a selection:

"One of the most interesting, thought-provoking, informative and entertaining productions I’ve seen recently" London Theatre 1 ★★★★★

“Intriguing exploration of the human condition through the eyes of the man who sought to explain it" The Stage

"In bravura performance, Adam Burton gives us a quirky Price who is remarkably engaging” British Theatre Guide

“It’s a story that is ridiculously juicy - a beautiful blend of human and scientific considerations" Time Out

"The debates are interesting, even for a largely non-scientific audience" The Reviews Hub

“Some great performances from Burton as Price, who is very watchable, and Neal Craig and Rachael Spence, who jump between a multitude of clearly defined and interesting roles" Camden New Journal

There's only a handful of tickets left for next week - advance booking is recommended.

Making, supporting and funding arts/science projects - free talk

Today at 4.45pm (after the Calculating Kindness 3pm matinee) there is a free talk with our Artistic Director (Laura Farnworth) and Executive Producer (Sophie Cornell) at Camden People's Theatre. We'll be discussing how to generate support and funding for arts/science projects and how it enriches the creative process. No need to book, just turn up!

George Price's daughters attend 'Calculating Kindness'

We were delighted to welcome Annamarie and Kathleen Price to our press night performance of Calculating Kindness last night, Thursday 31 March.  Annamarie and Kathleen have been in contact with Laura Farnworth, our Director, during the making process of the production, and have been able to offer a rare insight into their father's life.

Annamarie and Kathleen (George Price's daughters) with Laura Farnworth (Director) and Adam Burton (plays George Price)

Free Calculating Kindness post-show talks

There will be three post-show talks for Calculating Kindness, all free to ticket holders:

Making, supporting and funding arts/science projects.
Saturday 2 April, 4.45-5.15pm (after the 3pm matinee). Free to (matinee and evening) ticket holders
A discussion on how to generate support and funding for arts/science projects and how it enriches the creative process. Speakers tbc.

In conversation with the Cast and Director
Thursday 7 April (approx 8.50-9.20pm). Free to ticket holders.
Calculating Kindness cast members Adam Burton, Neal Craig & Rachael Spence, and Director Laura Farnworth speak about the play and answer questions.

In partnership with the British Library - researching George Price’s letters
Saturday 9 April, 4.45-5.15pm (after the 3pm matinee). Free to (matinee and evening) ticket holders
Laura Farnworth (Calculating Kindness Director) and Jonathan Pledge (Curator, Politics and Public Life, British Library) talk about how Undercurrent’s partnership with the British Library came about, and how accessing the George R Price and WD Hamilton collections at the BL have impacted on the making of the play.

Book tickets:

Placing 'Calculating Kindness' in George's London

Usually, there are many factors to take into consideration when deciding which venue to premiere a show. With Calculating Kindness, it was a bit different. Camden People's Theatre (CPT) has been a supporter of Undercurrent for many years - under our previous name (Labyrinth Theatre) we presented two of our major productions at CPT. Their mission statement; “to support early-career artists making unconventional theatre – particularly those whose work explores issues that matter to people now” chimes strongly with Undercurrent at this stage in our development. CPT's Artistic Director, Brian Logan, has been very supportive of the project and we are indeed presenting Calculating Kindness in co-production with CPT.
Lastly, and most significantly for the story, Camden People's Theatre backs on to Tolmers Square, where George Price squatted and then took his own life. Our play has had this in mind throughout the development, and references this in the script.  

Laura Farnworth, whose artistic vision has driven the piece since she conceived it in 2011, has always known that CPT is the best place for CK to begin its life:

"It feels a special coincidence fitting of George Price, to be presenting the first theatrical telling of George's untold story from the theatre that backs on to the Tolmers Square squat where he lived his last years." - Laura Farnworth

The piece explores George's story in London; all within a short distance from CPT. With Tolmers Square on one side, St Pancras churchyard not far away, and University College London within walking distance, we will be centred within "George's London" for three weeks in April. And we're very much looking forward to it.

      - Sophie Cornell, Producer

The creative process - Ziggy Jacobs

Ziggy Jacobs is Lighting Designer for Calculating Kindness. Ziggy creates lighting, video, mobile apps, and custom technology for events, installations, and performance. Her passion lies in weaving together traditional art forms with creative software and hardware design to create new and exciting interactive tools for live performance in unusual spaces, and in sharing those tools in a sustainable way with a global community.

Tell us a little about your usual creative process, and how this differs when working on a Science & Art project?

 My usual creative process is a science and art project! I specialize in the intersection between science, technology, art, maths, and performance – so a show like this is a gift, and its why I was contacted by Laura. I don’t think of “art” and “science” as separate things at all, so I find exploratory processes in all fields immensely creative. There’s a flip side to that coin however, in that I find some performance and scientific work can be equally dry and un-creative, when they are not exploratory or experimental. I think we have become unfortunately stuck in a cycle of creating theatre lighting in a very limited way, working from what our existing tools can achieve. This breeds a kind of expected repertoire of pretty techniques which are applied over and over again, a lexicon of colour temperatures and shapes which are signifiers for a regular and dedicated audience of mostly other performance makers.

I wholeheartedly believe in beginning from scratch – asking what we want to achieve, what story are we telling, and thinking sky-high about what visual elements can support that, discussing them in initial meetings and devising sessions. During rehearsals, those ideas can be pared back to the achievable, and engineered from the ground up. It may require building an app, creating a new source of light, learning from the technology of completely disparate or unexpected industries, or engineering a brand new concept – and sometimes it needs a 2kW Fresnel and a good old fashioned profile fixture. The point is that I never know what the show needs, simple, complex, or unheard of, until I work within it, and I like it that way. I like to learn new skills, hone old ones, and start from total scratch each time – I think it’s the only way to inject innovation into performance tech. Lucy Sierra is an incredible designer to work with for this kind of process. We work in a very similar way – she doesn’t start outside or inside a box. There just isn’t a box to consider. It means that she comes up with these incredible visual images that I can bounce technological ideas off of, and every time we work together I am very proud of an original concept and execution that we create.


You have a pretty good understanding of the Price Equation - how did this come about? 

I am a lover of academia, and I studied maths, anthropology, film, art history, electrical engineering, and many other things at a university level alongside theatre – by brother is a professional mathematician and a philosopher, my father is a creative software developer, my mother is an English literature specialist, my sister is a talented carpenter and visual artist, and we all create art separately and together and across our different professions. I was always encouraged to understand maths as a beautiful expression of the world around us, as beautiful as any novel or painting, and in fact to see those things as descriptions of each other. It was never treated as a dry subject, so I feel able to pick up mathematical concepts in exactly the same way I would dramaturgical decisions or literary nuances. I had heard of the equation before in brief context, but certainly not in any depth; in fact I’m much more familiar and comfortable with Price’s game theory work than his genetic frequency expressions. when Laura introduced me to the show, I picked up everything I could about the subject and read voraciously on it, and when I was lost I asked my brother for some clarification of the nitty-gritty workings. Attempting to apply Price’s formulae once I felt I had a grasp was helpful, and I feel I know enough now to express it through the performance.


How have you related the Price equation to your design?

I went through a number of ideas about how to relate the equation – from creating a “population” of sources that could demonstrate “fitness” and attrition in a live way every night, to a brain-world that reflected neurological activity through the light. In the end, we have decided to create a corner of George’s mind, where this story lives, and the lighting is related to the things that occupy this mind. The equation, and George’s mind, are reflected in an organized, angular way, but also have a natural and dynamic quality to their movement, a sort of spontaneous variable. The most important sources attached to the equation exist as they are, they do not make a judgement, or attempt to lead perception in a single direction – just like the equation doesn’t. They are neutral factors, their spread and activity is inevitable, fractal.

To an extent the individual sources are a population, and each one has had to survive the selection process; you will see clearly that the successful attributes and the “fittest” type of sources certainly demonstrate a covariance with their frequency in the population of lighting objects. If you view the entire lighting of the CPT theatre as a population of controllable sources, we have increased the figure dramatically – and the frequency of one type of source is drastically higher by the same amount. This can be seen as very much like genetic frequency; when the frequency of one gene (this type of source) increases in a population, the fitness of the population is covariant (the fitness of lighting objects in the theatre). Obviously they are not able to reproduce (although that could be an amazingly cost-effective idea!), but the concept is sort of beautifully similar!


What has been the most enjoyable part of the process so far?

Working with such a dedicated team has been a joy. When working on this kind of project, and in fact to make anything new at all, it is essential to have brainstorming and research time, and a supportive team to be involved with that. It’s a luxury we rarely receive in the arts, where the time of a “lighting designer” is often limited to a meeting or two and rehearsal visits. I feel trusted and supported by the whole cast and creative team in a way that allows me to make ambitious decisions. Being a part of this from much earlier on, brainstorming and talking with academic advisors, actors, director, designers, writer, and feeling so involved with the development of the show from R&D to script to performance, really is the best part.  

Undercurrent presents 'Chasing George Price' at the British Library

As part of our Calculating Kindness partnership with the British Library, Undercurrent are presenting 'Chasing George Price', and evening of drama and discussion on Tue 10 May from 18.30-20.00. Tickets cost £8 / £5 and can be booked here

Undercurrent, in partnership with the British Library, present this event about the man who formulated the mathematical explanation for the evolution of altruism.

Featuring performances of scenes from Undercurrent’s arresting new production Calculating Kindness followed by a panel discussion featuring director Laura Farnworth, Professor Alan Grafen and lighting designer Ziggy Jacobs.

Developed using the George Price and William Hamilton archives at the British Library, Calculating Kindness explores Price’s life in London, his relationship with evolutionary biologist William Hamilton, the formulation of Price’s equation, his conversion to Christianity, experiment with radical altruism and eventual suicide.

Undercurrent weighs up the question: was Price mentally ill, or consumed by a spiritual desire to disprove his own theory: that man is only kind to his own kin? Price's radical acts of altruism challenge us to examine our own acts of kindness in a time of austerity and self-interest.

Lydia Adetunji speaks about writing 'Calculating Kindness'

Lydia’s first full-length play Fixer opened at the HighTide Festival in 2009. It was revived at the Oval House in 2011 and is published by Nick Hern Books. Her second, Compliance, was written while she was Pearson playwright in residence at Paines Plough, and won the 2011 Catherine Johnson award. Recent work includes Bread on the Table, part of Metta Theatre’s Mouthful at Trafalgar Studios, The Foreigner, a monologue for the Staffordshire New Vic’s Hoard festival, and In This Place, written for Pentabus. She is currently under commission to Birmingham Rep Theatre.


Q: Tell us a little bit about Calculating Kindness and the process of making the show?

A: The process started with a series of conversations with Laura Farnworth, the director, where we put together a very loose framework for the story. Those ideas were then explored further in a workshop with actors - they devised and played around with various scenarios. After the two weeks of workshopping, I went away and wrote a draft of a script ready to go into the rehearsal process, where it developed further with cuts, changes and new material. That's different to how I usually work - normally by the time actors are involved I've already written a script. 


Q: What particularly interested you in George Price?

A: I'm fascinated by the way he threw himself at fundamental questions about what it means to be human. The level of commitment - to go from being a militant atheist to someone who wrote complicated treatises on the correct dates of Easter is such an extreme journey. 


Q: Do you feel a personal responsibility, writing about a real person?

A: I'm very aware of a responsibility to the person I'm writing about. But it's not a documentary - it needs to work as drama, and so I guess it's about trying to capture some essential quality about the character. It's acknowledged in the piece itself that there's always a tension between reality and the demands of fiction in any exploration of a life story.  


Q: Dramatically, what have you found is the best way to explore the story?

A: We knew from the start that we didn't want to create a traditional sort of biopic-style piece, with a straightforward chronology and explanations for everything that happens to the character. Price was obsessed with finding meaning in patterns. We've tried to work some of his fixation with coincidences and sequences of events into the structure of the piece. And so it becomes about a man revisiting the events in his life and trying to work out why things happened the way they did.


Q: Have you found anything unexpected or surprising during the development?

A: It's been great to be able to read through the Price letters (held in the British Library), and would recommend that anyone interested in his life and work who gets the chance does the same. He's a very good letter writer - funny and observant.

Neal Craig: Calculating Kindness Q&A

We talked to actor Neal Craig about his role in Calculating Kindness, and the making process. Some of Neal’s many theatre credits include Swallows & Amazons at Bristol Old Vic, National Theatre and West End; Owen Wingrave at Aldeburgh and Edinburgh International Festival; The Conspirators and Henry V at Orange Tree Theatre; and Hamlet at Watermill Theatre. Neal is an associate artist and founder member of 1923 Theatre Company.


Q: Tell us a little bit about your role in (in the production) of Calculating Kindness

A: I play the role of Bill Hamilton who was the evolutionary geneticist with whom George Price worked after he read Hamilton's paper 'The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour', which directly inspired George to create the Price Equation. Hamilton is a benign character whose friendship with George is complex and I think quite beautiful. They were almost kindred spirits, as Hamilton said when George died "I felt like I'd lost part of myself."


Q: How does George Price’s theory of altruism come into play?

A: Lydia Adetunji (the writer) has cleverly made the theory, almost, another character within the play. So as we go through the piece and find the best way to tell the story, the theory is always there looking over your shoulder, helping to guide us. It's amazing how tangible it becomes. You really start to understand how it could affect people like George and Hamilton and shake the foundations of what you thought you knew and why you think you're doing things. I've had some periods of existential crisis and breaking into cold sweats when I think about it too much!


Q: What have you learned through making the show?

A: Approaching complex subjects like altruism, kin selection and group selection within evolutionary genetics, which I knew pretty much nothing about beforehand, within the medium of storytelling is a strange and rewarding experience. At times I feel like we're attempting to translate another language into our own language of theatre and trying to finding the pivotal points of the theory. The people involved and the huge obstacles they faced has forced me to try and gain a (very) basic language of genetics. I feel like I'm at university at times.

But what I have learnt more than anything else is that this is the story of a very troubled, brilliant man and the relationships that led to his premature death. It's a very human story, which deserves to be told with sensitivity and honesty.


Q: How has the physical language of the play developed?

A: It's difficult to answer this question as we're still playing and the rehearsal room does metaphorically resemble a child's bedroom scattered with toys and discarded ideas. Instinctively we're starting to find a certain type of language but right now I do find it hard to pin down. It's an exciting stage to be at, and with a director like Laura (Farnworth) we all feel we’re travelling on a journey together and discoveries are being made on a daily, even an hourly basis. It's incredibly inspiring and inventive.


Q: There are four academic advisors attached to the production - how have you found working with them?

A: Having advisors there is a font of incredible resource and reassurance. Dr Andy Gardner of St. Andrews University uses the Price Equation on a daily basis and helped to show us as actors how beautiful and universal George's creation is and to what extent it could be used for. Prof. Alan Grafen of Oxford University explained how the Price Equation works in practice, but for me his input is invaluable as he knew and worked very closely with Bill Hamilton. Sharing and exploring this world from an academic and an artistic point of view I think makes all of us augment our habitual ways of thinking, and in storytelling I believe that is a very exciting place to be.


Q: What’s your favourite quote from the play?

A: "I see you George. My eyes are open and I see you."

These words spoken by Julia, although having their own context within the play, for me are like a destination we're journeying towards. It is what I want the audience to see. And if we keep going like we are, I'm sure they will.