Big Finish Drama Showcase: Unintelligent Design

Regular readers of my blog will recall that I’ve been reviewing Big Finish’s Drama Showcase series of audio dramas, released at roughly monthly intervals. The fourth and final release in the current series, after an unforeseen delay, has just been released – and, in my opinion, Unintelligent Design is the best of the lot. Listen to the trailer, which explains absolutely nothing:

Unintelligent Design: Listen to the Trailer (MP3)

A full review follows – but first, links to my earlier reviews of the Drama Showcase series:

  1. Not a Well Woman
  2. Pulling Faces
  3. In Conversation with an Acid Bath Murderer

Geoffrey Beevers writes and stars in this tale of – well, I’m hesitant to say, really: part of the joy of this comic drama is working out exactly who each of the characters are, and what their actual roles transpire to be. What I can say is the Beevers is a college tutor who is trying to calm down a distraught research student (Toby Hadoke) whose project is going wrong. As they discuss the young man’s project (occasionally interrupted by the tutor’s assistant, played by Daisy Ashford) they await news of the most prestigious science prizes of all time – and while winning will mean everything, there is the ultimate penalty awaiting the loser…

As might be guessed from the title of the piece, Beevers has crafted a tale that looks at Creationism, Darwinism and theories of “intelligent design” from a highly unusual angle. As noted by Hadoke in the behind-the-scenes featurette that follows the 40-minute drama itself, in principle the play’s conceit would work as a short, humorous sketch – but this is better, more sharply written, more astutely observed and more thoughtfully philosophical.

It’s also funny as hell, once you appreciate the scenario in which the characters are situated (and as I said, figuring that out for oneself is half the fun). As a play which stretches the mind while bringing a smile, it’s easily the best of the four in the Drama Showcase series. That’s helped by some subtle sound design by Nigel Fairs, and it’s all brought together under the watchful eye of director Lisa Bowerman.

And how nice for the Drama Showcase series to finally break free of the “adapted one-person play” format that it used for the first three productions in this series (something I was grumbling about at the end of my review of In Conversation With an Acid Bath Murderer).

As a result, as the series of Drama Showcase plays draws to a close, there’s a sign that this format has enough variety for Big Finish to hopefully continue with the range in the future. And let’s hope they do – while BBC radio remains prolific in drama output despite ditching the Friday Play and increasing the number of repeats in the Afternoon Play slot, anything that demonstrates that drama is viable on a commercial basis can only widen the market for well crafted drama on audio.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.