Darwin’s Confession

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April 23, 1851. Annie, Charles Darwin’s beloved ten-year-old daughter, has just died as a result of a wrong diagnosis and cure. Darwin, exhausted and desperate, hallucinates and rambles on about his life and scientific endeavours. Little by little, he reveals to his departed daughter the secret he discovered twelve years ago but kept to himself, putting off publication for fear of provoking a social uproar but painstakingly gathering evidence in support of his revolutionary finding: all life has evolved from a common ancestor, through mutations governed by the law of natural selection, in the absence of any divine design. Through the intervention of a mysterious human ape and of two contemporary women (the author of the play and a pensioned biologist, who act as a chorus, passionately commenting on the events and sometimes intruding in the action), the play wanders between the past and the present, confronting the audience with the challenges facing mankind at the dawn of a new biotechnological, post-Darwinian era: is science a tool of liberation or alienation? Where do we come from and what can be the purpose of a life apparently governed largely by chance? What are our duties and responsibilities, now that science enables us to control our own evolution and possibly that of all nature? What about God? What about the ethics of scientific research? What will the world that we are presently fashioning look like?

Genre: play by Dominique Caillat.

Five characters: Darwin (aged 50), the author (young woman), the biologist (old woman), the human ape (played by a woman or a man), Annie (aged 10).

Length: 1 h 30 min.

Music: sound-track.

Public: adults and youth.

The play was commissioned by the Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences as a contribution to Darwin’s bicentennial celebrations in 2009, with a view to encouraging a public debate about science, ethics and religion.

2009 World Premiere and Tour:
Darwin’s Confession had two simultaneous world premieres on November 6, 2009 in Sion (french version, directed by François Rochaix) and in Basel (german version, directed by Martin Burr, Imprimerie Basel). The productions went on a Swiss national tour with over 40 performances in 10 cities.


Darwin’s Confession, a play by Dominique Caillat, succeeds in combining Darwin’s theories with stage performance. Darwin is viewed critically and turns out to be fascinating… One leaves the theatre full of ideas and sensual impressions.”
(Joerg Jermann, Basler Zeitung MZ)

“The play is fantastic from A to Z. It is simply remarkable, both from the point of view of evolutionary biology as in its artistic transposition… The social and political dimensions of social Darwinism, of eugenics and of modern biology, as well as their implications for future generations, for the world and life in general, are clearly shown. It is clear that absurdity is only belatedly recognized as such, a fact that is also true of our present times.”
(Heinz Richner, co-director of the Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Bern University)

For more information, please refer to the French and German pages concerning the play on this website (La confession de Darwin, Darwins Beichte) or visit the "Darwin's Confession" Website (in French).