"A Venerable Orang-outang", a caricature of Charles Darwin published in 1871 in The Hornet, a satirical magazine

Love in the Chook House

A bizarre one-act play, Love in the Chook House was first performed by the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild in 1993. It remains as topical now as it was then. Length: 45 mins, Cast: 3 actors, (1M, 1F and 1 half-human/half-chimp)

"The very small genetic distance between humans and chimps might tempt us to try the most potentially interesting and ethically unacceptable scientific experiment I can imagine - to hybridise our two species and simply ask the offspring what it is like to be, at least in part, chimpanzee. This interbreeding may well be possible - so small are the genetic distances that separate us."

The above paragraph from "Ever Since Darwin" by the evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould, provided a stimulus that led eventually to "Love in the Chook House". However, once the writing started, many other ideas swirling around in my head insisted on making their own contributions.

When the dinosaur was unable to adapt to environmental change, it became extinct. However, when Homo Sapiens doesn't like its environment, it changes the environment to facilitate survival. This it is able to do because of its intelligence, which constitutes an enormous evolutionary advantage. Science and technology can be regarded as the end product of an evolutionary process that has always rewarded understanding of the world with reproductive success.

We are in a position now, not just to change the environment to suit our whims, but also to tamper with our own genetic material. This we do every time we abort a foetus with a genetic abnormality. The techniques of modern genetic engineering provide us with a much more efficient tool to influence the content of our gene pool.

But who can say which genetic traits are to be preferred? Do we want a world filled entirely with Beethovens or Einsteins? We are trying to answer these important questions within a social structure that has not evolved at the same pace as our technology, a structure where greed, acquisitiveness and aggression, those sterling qualities that got us to our current position on the evolutionary ladder, are still rampant. We must now face the fact that they, along with some of our other social institutions, may not be sufficient to see us into the future. These are some of the issues discussed in the chook house.

I hope we can all laugh at them.


This play is one of the four scripts contained in the Anthology. To discuss performance issues, please email me