Please note: I was given tickets to ‘The Wider Earth‘ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
If you’ve got children and are hoping for some fun (and even educational) entertainment over half-term next week, then I’ve got the perfect theatre suggestion for you! I was lucky enough to be given tickets to see The Wider Earth, a play about Charles Darwin’s famous voyage on the HMS Beagle, which is now showing (highly appropriately!) at the Natural History Museum.
The museum has installed a custom-built theatre to host this production, which features a cast of seven, as well as incredible puppetry by the Dead Puppet Society. A basic stage setup was brilliantly amplified by the use of watercolour-style projections that made stunning backdrops to the drama.
Bradley Foster, Marcello Cruz and Matt Tait in The Wider Earth. Photo by Mark Douet.
The Wider Earth is written and directed by David Morton, and he shows Charles Darwin as a 22 year-old student in Cambridge, who is delighted when he’s given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to continue his passion for nature and science by taking the post as resident naturalist on the HMS Beagle on its voyage to far-flung corners of the globe.
I felt this play was clearly written with an educational view in mind, so the script is serviceable, but not overly ambitious. Morton, however, does a good job at showing how Darwin’s experiences on the voyage and the deductions he made from his observations of the lands and animals he encountered, led him to write the world-changing On the Origin of Species. Bradley Foster, who plays Charles Darwin, is engaging and perfectly combines an attitude of youthful zeal with a very serious desire to seek out truths.
It’s the visual experience of this production that truly makes it stand out. I was extremely impressed by the painterly projections that were used to add further detail and mood to the various settings. The puppets were beautiful, too, and brilliantly operated by the actors. It was lovely to hear the gasps of appreciation from the young audience when the particularly striking large puppets were used.
Bradley Foster as Charles Darwin in The Wider Earth. Photograph: Maisie Marshall/Rex/Shutterstock
Although much of the action of this play takes place on board ship, I also greatly enjoyed the details about Darwin’s home life, particularly his engagement to Emma Wedgwood. I’d had no idea that Emma Darwin had originally been Emma Wedgwood, part of the famous Wedgwood family, and in fact as soon as I got home, I ordered a biography of her in order to discover a bit more about her life. David Morton did a great job in fleshing out Emma’s character in a short space of time, and his emphasis on her passion for abolishing slavery and involvement in the abolitionist movement definitely peaked my interest. I’m looking forward to reading her biography when I get the chance, and it seemed fitting that I should leave the play on a quest for more information, even if about one of its more peripheral subjects.
The Wider Earth makes for a brilliant afternoon or night out for all the family. I would say it’s most appropriate for those age 10+, as though those younger would love the puppets, the dialogue would be difficult to follow. I definitely had my teacher cap on whilst I was watching it, and I think it would also make an excellent outing for schools for Year 6 and up.
Tickets for The Wider Earth may be purchased here. The play is showing at the Natural History Museum until 30th December, and both matinee and evening performances are available.