This thoughtful and imaginative production encourages us all to appreciate the natural world and Charles Darwin’s innovative ideas about evolution. 

The Wider Earth at The Natural History Museum. Photo by Mark Douet - _50A6303 (1)
Marcello Cruz and Bradley Foster in The Wider Earth. (c)  Mark Douet. 

From the second you step into the transformed Jerwood gallery at the Natural History Museum, the audience is automatically transported into a beautifully atmospheric auditorium. Including a background filled with stars that highlights the jagged and sharp set and lighting that is softly natural, you already get the impression that this is a very visual and special show.

Directed and written by David Morton, The Wider Earth is deeply engaging and fascinating piece that tells the story of Charles Darwin’s discoveries that he made during his five year voyage on the HMS Beagle in the 1830’s. With his play Morton effectively places Darwin’s thought processes and voice right at the heart of the play, allowing the audience to be swept away into the world he explored during those five years.

What makes the production so magical is the way with every scene, particularly when Darwin discusses his findings with other characters, the attention to detail and research is clear to see – helped of course by Dead Puppet Society’s wonderfully realistic puppets that take on personalities of their own. There are some genuinely lovely moments featuring the puppets, excellently choreographed in their movements – highlighted by the underwater sequences that are magical to watch.

Justin Harrison’s projections and Aaron Burton and David Morton’s designs help to draw the audience further into Charles Darwin’s discoveries, capturing his passion and enthusiasm for his discoveries as well as highlighting subtly the need of us in 2018 to help preserve the creatures and environments that are in danger today.

But the deeply researched play also highlights serious issues from the time – including slavery with a particularly intense conversation between Darwin and Robert Fitzroy being a real standout moment of the show, as well as questions about religion being raised as Darwin begins to discover the idea of evolution. These topics add depth to the production, allowing the audience to question what they believe in -handled in a balanced and non-judgemental way.

All of this is vividly enhanced by the performances of the cast, all of whom show great depth and understanding for the characters they are playing. Bradley Foster as Charles Darwin offers an enthusiastic performance, capturing Darwin’s thought processes with great ease, particularly highlighted when he talks about his findings to Robert Fitzroy. Meanwhile, Jack Parry Jones as Fitzroy is suitably brusque and commanding, yet has a hint of vulnerability with regards to his attitude towards Jemmy. It is a performance that is well balanced and engaging to watch. There is also solid support to be found in Marcello Cruz’s gentle performance as Jemmy, a quiet but effective presence on stage.

Overall, The Wider Earth is a fascinating, insightful and magical production  that offers a refreshing insight into Charles Darwin and what led him him down the road to becoming a naturalist. It is a gloriously beautiful piece of theatre to look at and watch unfold – well worth a visit if you can.

By Emma Clarendon

The Wider Earth continues to play at the Natural History Museum until the 30th December. To book tickets visit: https://lovelondonloveculture.tixuk.com/london-theatre/plays/the-wider-earth

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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