Showing in the Jerwood Gallery at the Natural History Museum, The Wider Earth is sure to marvel audiences of all ages. A combination of Trish Wadley Productions and the Dead Puppet Society, the play tells the story of young Charles Darwin as he embarks on a magical journey around the world aboard the HMS Beagle.
As you enter the theatre the light effects combined with smoke reveal that something extraordinary is about to happen. The show begins and we witness a trip amongst the stars that transports us to the early 1800s Britain, where we can see Bradley Foster taking the role of young Charles Darwin along with Melissa Vaughan, playing his soon to be wife. The stage is simple but effective: a rotating platform with a boulder that serves as Darwin’s home, a ship’s deck, the hilly landscape of Shrewsbury, the burning island of Tierra Del Fuego, and many cities and ports that Darwin visits in his journey.
Written, co-designed and directed by David Morton, The Wider Earth shows the most curious side of Darwin, whose love for nature leads him to his groundbreaking discoveries. It is exciting to see how the character grows, learns and gets fascinated by every living creature he encounters, from collecting bugs at the University of Cambridge to walking with giant tortoises in the Galapagos.
Part of the success of this play is thanks to its hundreds of puppets that make the animals in the story come to life. Mixing technology with traditional puppets, the Dead Puppet Society constructs movement structures creating the illusion of life. Moved by the performers themselves, these animal puppets are visually stunning, you will see from armadillos to fishes, birds, turtles, whales, and lizards.
The play is thriving thanks to a collaborative effort. The sound design by Tony Brumpton is exquisite, and it works perfectly well with Lee Curran‘s lighting design. The music by co-composers Lior and Tony Buchen, always present throughout the show, is a delight and the cinematic curved screen projections by Justin Harrison help to set the scenes geographically and bring this Darwinian story to life.
The Wider Earth is a delight for any member of the audience regardless of age. It gives the opportunity of meeting a lesser known humanistic aspect of Darwin’s convictions, he was a passionate abolitionist strongly opposed to slavery and had fascinating observations which opposed religious concepts of divine creation.
The supporting cast does a great job in helping portray different aspects of Charles Darwin’s persona, but it is Foster’s head-to-heads with his father, played by Ian Houghton, and Captain Robert Fitzroy, interpreted by Jack Parry-Jones, that makes him a genuinely well-rounded character.
This new theatre in the Natural History Museum is a little treasure, I can’t imagine a better place for a play like this. However, I have to say that the audience sitting further up will get a more unobstructed view than those sitting in the front rows. There is crucial information you don’t want to miss about where the scenes are taking place along with beautiful illustrations in the screen at the back of the stage.
The Wider Earth is an immersive production performed at the Natural History Museum that will captivate audiences of all ages for a long time to come.