The Wider Earth
Jerwood Gallery, Natural History Museum
Reviewed – 12th October 2018
“Visually, the production is stunning from the moment you enter the space”
The Wider Earth is a new play by David Morton being performed in the Jerwood Gallery of the Natural History Museum, after a sell out run at the Sydney Opera House. It explores Darwin’s maiden journey on the HMS Beagle, where he began to form his theory of evolution. It follows him and the members of the crew on their journey across the world, Christian missionaries and scientists side by side.
Visually, the production is stunning from the moment you enter the space, it’s a shame it doesn’t keep to the same standard throughout the whole performance, the issue lying mainly in the fact that it merges different artistic styles, creating an almost amateur effect within the projections. Moments within the play, combined with the mismatched style of the projections, made me feel like I was in an exhibition at a museum, whether or not that was the desired effect, I have no idea. However it left me feeling displaced.
Occasionally the story becomes stilted, especially as the writer struggles to fit in the scientific explanation accurately into the story. It briefly touches on the more ‘unsavoury’ aspects of Darwin’s generation, although it needs to explore them deeper, rather than sugar coating slavery, even if the desired audience is for families and children. Morton, however, does a brilliant job of realising his play on the stage, naturally fitting comfortably in the role of director.
There were moments that were absolutely gorgeous, for example the supplies sequence which was beautifully timed and an absolute pleasure to watch. The puppets, created by Dead Puppet Society, were beautifully intricate, and brought each of the Beagle’s destinations to life. The whole cast worked fantastically as a team, all puppeteering several different animals, and providing each one with their own personality including a very personable iguana. Bradley Foster as Darwin was strong throughout and his interactions with puppets were utterly convincing.
Sound and lighting, were aspects of the production that at times seemed to overpower the very versatile and deceptively simple set. The music, by Lior and Tony Buchan, was beautiful, but excessive sometimes. The production, often, fell into the ‘too much’ category and could have been a lot more effective, by taking away a lot of the glitz and glamour.
Overall a beautifully directed play, about an important era in history. With its glorious cinematic score, and some stunning visuals, it brings to life a story that previously only existed in books and specimens.
Reviewed by Charlotte Hurford
Photography by Mark Douet
The Wider Earth
Jerwood Gallery, Natural History Museum until 30th December
The Lady From the Sea
Reviewed – 21st October 2017
“Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Ellida is hypnotic, lending elegance to her deep-rooted longing that teeters on madness”
“The Lady From The Sea” is probably Ibsen’s most symbolic work. It is centred on Ellida, the female protagonist caught in a conflict between duty and self-determination. Stuck in her marriage to Doctor Wangel, she longs for the sea. When a former lover returns from years of absence, she is forced to decide between freedom and the new life she has made for herself.
The action is transplanted from the icy Norwegian fjords to a sultry Caribbean beach, where the stifling heat adds to the feelings of being trapped, as relationships untangle and are knotted back together again, in Elinor Cook’s adaptation. Cook’s text, coupled with the strength of the performances, draws one into a fresh way of looking at the play. The language has an easy, contemporary feel bringing a crisp clarity to Ibsen’s themes: the divide between men and women. Even back in the late nineteenth century Ibsen called this “the modern tragedy”, presciently claiming that “a woman cannot be herself in today’s society” because it is shaped and dictated by men.
Kwame Kwei-Armah, the next artistic director of the Young Vic, is at the helm. His uncluttered direction gives ample space for the comedy to tease through. Ibsen’s observations were often so acute they were funny – and Kwei-Armah embraces this. Throwing some tropical heat into the mix adds an extra, spicy lightness of touch. However, the Caribbean setting is not fully explored, and is often pushed into the margins. There is scant reference to the location and, during the more introspective moments, Lee Curran’s moody lighting too often dips back into the cold North Atlantic.
The play’s action takes place on the day that the doctor’s daughters from a previous marriage are preparing the celebrations for their dead mother’s birthday. Ellie Bamber and Helena Wilson excel in playing the daughters, their loyalties torn between the memory of their mother and the grudging acceptance of their stepmother. Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Ellida is hypnotic, lending elegance to her deep-rooted longing that teeters on madness. Finbar Lynch is a master at portraying the dilemma Elida’s husband faces. His commanding performance, just a few feet from the audience, impels us to share his turmoil: his struggle to reconcile his self-perceived duty as a husband with that of giving his wife the freedom of choice. Initially he believes that withholding that freedom of choice is protecting her, and it is only when he finally relinquishes his hold on her that they are both freed from the ghosts that haunt them.
There is a surprising simplicity to the play, which is its appeal. The key themes are the subject of countless pop songs in today’s world. There are tragic moments but it’s also a play about love. But unlike many a pop song this play is perfectly pitched. There is a harmony in the collision of the two worlds; the spiritual and the political. “Paradise is all well and good until you’re trapped in it” echoes one of the characters. The strength of this production lies in the overriding feeling that Ibsen could have written this yesterday. Testament, not only to the playwright himself, but also to the team that have brought this pearl to the Donmar Warehouse.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Manuel Harlan
THE LADY FROM THE SEA
is at the Donmar Warehouse until 2nd December