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The Wider Earth at The Natural History Museum | Review

The Wider Earth at The Natural History Museum. Photo by Mark Douet
The Wider Earth at The Natural History Museum. Photo by Mark Douet

A young Charles Darwin and his heroic efforts to produce a theory of evolution by natural selection are brought to life in The Wider Earth, an immersive production performed at the Natural History Museum that will captivate audiences of all ages for a long time to come.

The Wider Earth written, co-designed and directed by David Morton, transports its audience to the dawn of time with scenery bathed in the light of a mega-star that splits the sky and touches upon earth’s boulder-like surface. The boulder, with its multi-layered plateaus and ridges, remains centre stage throughout the production. It is a rotating, versatile piece of set design that will serve as a ship’s deck, Tenerife and the Canary Islands, Darwin’s home, the burning island of Tierra Del Fuego, the hilly landscape of Shrewsbury and many ports and cities that Darwin will encounter.

The inventive energies expended to envision a world as Darwin saw it are down to the play’s incomparable creative team and the Dead Puppet Society, a visual theatre company that merges technology with traditional puppetry to construct movement puppets such as armadillos, giant tortoises, predator sharks, schools of fishes and rare birds. The actors have the dual task of manually working each puppet to create the illusion of life.

The success of this play is truly a collaborative effort and praise must be lavished on sound designer (Tony Brumpton), lighting designer (Lee Curran) music (co-composers Lior and Tony Buchen) and the cinematic curved screen projections (Justin Harrison) that bring this Darwinian world to life aboard the naval ship HMS Beagle.

We meet the 22-year-old Charles Darwin (Bradley Foster) in 1831. He is a dedicated naturalist, already beginning to challenge religious concepts of science when he is offered a place on HMS Beagle to study natural history in the tropics. During the journey Darwin’s beliefs often clash with those of the Beagle’s god-fearing captain, Robert Fitzroy (Jack Parry-Jones), also a scientist and meteorologist, who must survey the coast of South America to produce nautical charts for the British Admiralty, while Darwin is left free to collect specimens of animal, rock, fossils and plant life on shore.

Although Captain Fitzroy intends to complete the expedition in two years, HMS Beagle will not return to England until 1836, nearly five years from the day it set sail on its worldwide journey. These are the events that introduce us to the remarkable life of a young Charles Darwin and the voyage that is to result in the publication of his most acclaimed work, On the Origin of Species, which will lead us to alter our understanding of the evolution of the species.

Amid the magic of its amazing puppetry, revolving landscapes and cinematic backdrops, The Wider Earth is a delight for any child from the age of four to adults aged to one hundred and sixty. It also drives home the lesser known humanistic aspects of Darwin’s convictions – he is a passionate abolitionist vehemently opposed to slavery – as well as his vigorous observations which oppose religious concepts of divine creation. It’s not often that we encounter Darwin as a fit and fearless young man of vociferous intelligence, one to rival any modern-day hero, and housing the play in a pop-up theatre inside the Natural History Museum can only add to its magic. Strongly recommended for all ages.

4 stars

Review by Loretta Monaco

The European premiere of the award-winning drama The Wider Earth tells the story of the rebellious young Charles Darwin, and opens for a limited season in a new theatre at the Natural History Museum.

Join the 22-year-old Darwin on HMS Beagle’s daring voyage to the far side of the world and discover the gripping story behind one of the most important discoveries in history.

A cast of seven, remarkable puppetry, an original score, and cinematic animations all combine to bring to life uncharted landscapes in the theatrical event of 2018.

The Wider Earth
Performance Dates Tuesday 2nd October – Sunday 30th December 2018
Tuesday – Saturday, 7:30pm
Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, 2:30pm
Check website for exact schedule
Location Jerwood Gallery at the Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, Kensington, London SW7 5BD.

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