Theatre Review: The Wider Earth, Natural History Museum
PUBLISHED: 17:07 12 October 2018
Photo by Mark Douet
Imaginative and visually exciting story of Charles Darwin’s eventful Beagle voyage its told in a purpose-built venue at this iconic museum
THE WIDER EARTH
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
What better subject to grace the first purpose-built theatre at this iconic museum than the story of how Charles Darwin formed his groundbreaking theory of evolution?
Darwin was just 22 when he embarked on a five-year voyage aboard HMS Beagle to circumnavigate the globe, map the South American shoreline and collect specimens of flora and fauna.
Years before the publication of On The Origin of Species and the fusty image of a bearded Victorian elder, Bradley Foster’s boyishly enthusiastic and humane naturalist gives us Darwin: the student years.
There are great discoveries to be made in small observations, counsels his university mentor, but wealthy father Robert wants our young hero to be a vicar. Luckily his intelligent cousin Emma says she’ll wait for him when he’s offered a berth by charismatic Naval Captain Robert FitzRoy on a perilous journey that encounters storms, earthquakes, mental hardship and fire-wielding natives.
Suitable for ages 10 upwards, writer/director David Morton aided by the talents of the Dead Puppet Society, does an imaginitive job of cutting through complex scientific theory, and treading the line between airing some weighty themes while not talking down to younger audience members.
Colourful back projections map The Beagle’s voyage, Aaron Barton’s spinning set swiftly transforms from rocky outcrop to ship’s cabin in the turn of a revolve, and wooden frame puppets of turtles, exotic birds and armadillos provide magical moments.
Based on Darwin’s own account of the voyage and surviving letters, Morton’s play deals with issues of slavery and colonialism as Jemmy Button, bought from Tierra Del Fuego for a brass button and taken back to Britian to be civlised, rejects being returned to his former homeland as a Christian missionary.
On board FitzRoy and Rev Henslow stand for the religious certainties that the abolitionist Darwin is increasingly questioning as he observes how the animals he encounters have adapted to their changing landscapes.
The amiable Darwin forms touching relationships as FitzRoy almost mentally buckles under the stress of leadership, but it is the notion that an unprejudiced open mind can make the scientific observations and connections to rock his world that lingers afterwards.
Gaining access to this atmospheric museum at night is frankly just a bonus.