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.