Something wonderful has transformed the Jerwood Gallery at the Natural History Museum. Not only are you transported to a world of inexplicable beauty, you travel in time to meet a 22 year old Charles Darwin on his epic journey of discovery.
Written by David Morton, Wider Earth details Charles Darwin’s five year survey voyage upon the HMS Beagle. Today, Darwin’s theory is widely accepted and faces very little challenge. However, the journey Darwin takes is not simply one of discovery. Morton uses the play to emphasise the challenges Darwin faced, not only of his personal faith but the reaction of others as the diversity between Religion, faith and Science becomes a catalyst for potential social change.
The mystery, the awe inspiring vision and the violent opposition that Darwin faced is all within Morton’s commentary. Not only that, Morton seamlessly alludes to the slave trade and abolition within the realms of religion in order to pose undisputable arguments at to why we are all equal, despite our differences.
The set it quite simply breath taking. From the opening recitation of Genesis, to the final moments in which Darwin returns home from his voyage, every part of the set it utilised. The revolving centre piece is used throughout the 2 hour production as buildings, the Beagle and even the exotic island landscapes. The lighting and video backdrop only add to something that is already perfect. Between the recreations of Darwin’s scribbles and the blue wash the production uses to recreate the ocean, you will be transported and immersed in Darwin’s world.
I would not be able to write this review without mentioning the one thing that reduced me to tears. The puppetry is out of this world. from the smallest butterfly to the turtles, from the movements to the interactions; the only thing that could have rendered me more in awe would have been in they’d placed an actual new born hippo in my hands.
The cast of seven are who really sold this play to me. It’s nearly 40 minutes before the audience witness their first puppet animal. but they are the icing on the already beautifully constructed cake. The people on the stage allow me to have an emotional attachment and a connection with a historical figure that I’ve respected for so long.
Bradley Foster brings a curiosity and passion to the biologist and naturalist that everyone knows. There’s a joy and boyish charm in Foster’s role that breaks down the wall between the man and the theory. The conflict between Darwin’s faith and the questions his exploration raise is raw and unapologetic, and is only solidified by the relationships we experience. Notably those of his beloved Emma, played by the delightful Melissa Vaughn who helps bring life and character to many of the puppets we meet, and Captain Fitzroy, played by the incredible Jack Parry-Jones whose handsome frame brings a level of authority and passion to the Captain who dissolves throughout the play as his mission doesn’t quite go to plan. Marcello Cruz plays Jemmy and provides some of the most heart breaking scenes either side of the interval.
It is Matt Tait who held my attention throughout; with his husky Scottish tones that sooth the soul and bring authority to Fitzroy’s second in command, Wickham. He also has an amazing ability to bring to life the puppets he controls. The highlight is the bird that soars around the stage.
Andrew Bridgmont, and Ian Houghton round out the cast and play multiple roles on land and sea. Without them, we would not see the inspiration behind Darwin’s curiosity. They both bring charm, joy and humour to the play and ensure I’ll be coming back for another viewing.