REVIEW: The Wider Earth (Natural History Museum) ★★★
The Wider Earth tells the story of Charles Darwin as a young man taking part in the expedition on HMS Beagle in 1831. This is one of the most important voyages in scientific history; the creatures Darwin observed, the specimens he collected and the journal he kept on this journey inspired his thoughts on natural selection and catapulted him to fame as a naturalist on his return.
Following sold-out seasons in Brisbane and Sydney, The Wider Earth has come to the Natural History Museum in London in a custom built theatre in the Jerwood Gallery where the run has been extended to February 2019. The Museum is home to many of the specimens Charles Darwin collected on his expeditions and today scientists continue in his footsteps, seeking solutions to the major issues facing the natural world. The Jerwood Gallery is metres away from the working laboratories of the Darwin Centre at the Museum and some of the specimens he collected on the 1831 voyage making it a wonderful location for this story.
The show has a cast of seven actors and forty hand crafted puppets representing the exotic wildlife Darwin encountered on his voyage. The Wider Earth tells of Darwin’s coming of age during the five years he spent on his journey across the globe to South America, the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Darwin was just 22 years old when he set off and his wide-eyed youthful wonder is well represented by Bradley Foster.
The set and staging make this a wonderful show to watch, the main stage revolves and the central wooden structure becomes a study in Cambridge, the ship’s deck and a rainforest among many other locations on Darwin’s travels. Sketch drawings projected on a screen at the rear transport us to where we need to be for the next stage of the story.
The age recommendation states: “The show is suitable for age 8 plus. The puppetry and visual elements will appeal to younger people, but some of the scientific content may go over their heads.” The puppets are wonderful but not on stage as much as the promotional materials would have you believe. A number of challenging topics such as slavery, empire and creationism are touched upon but not explored in great detail. This is a very wordy play and sometimes the actors are difficult to hear over the soundtrack making it hard to follow the story at some points.
The show has some wonderful moments and is visually very pleasing but may be difficult for younger audience members to follow.
Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
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