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