The Wider Earth Review – National History Museum


Before Darwin changed the world, one voyage changed his life

A review by Tanya Howard

You may remember that last month we went to The National History Museum after hours to meet the cast and crew of The Wider Earth show, to see the incredible puppets and have a sneak peek of the show itself. At that time the Jerwood Gallery had not yet been converted into a theatre by Australia’s Dead Puppet Society, so I was excited to see if it looked like how I had envisioned in my head.

The staging set up uses a revolving stage with a skirting structure to bring the entire stage to one level, and has built in smoke and light effects to give the effort of different environments. Behind the set is a panoramic projection screen that shows illustrations, in the style of Conrad Marten, including maps, locations and Darwin’s internal thoughts, and all of this works together to truly immerse you into the story, and was even better than I expected.

The Wider Earth tells the tale of Charles Darwin, who at just 22 years old left Cambridge to be the resident naturalist on the HMS Beagle. Leaving the UK as an unknown young man, Charles embarked on a five year voyage that would lead him one of the most important scientific breakthroughs ever made. Exploring far off lands and the creatures that reside there, the animals are brought to life in the form of exquisite, intricate puppets that the cast take turns orchestrating.

The show offers an insight into not only the younger life of Charles Darwin, but also the crew and captain of HMS Beagle. Whilst the show has a kids go free option I’m not sure I would class it as the right show for a younger audience as it is very fact based and might be a bit too intellectual for the younger mind. The puppets though were a big hit with the kids amongst the audience whilst I was watching, and you could hear oohs and aahs amongst the crowd as the armadillos, fireflies, giant tortoises and more crossed the stage.

All the actors were a joy to watch and portrayed their characters emotions really well. I could really feel the struggle that Charles felt as he started to question the word of religion versus his scientific discovery, I could feel the anguish felt by the Captain when he saw the island burn that he had just dropped a member of the crew and the Reverand off. Whilst I would have been dizzy from the constant turning of the stage the cast took it in their stride as they switched between scenes, personas, costumes and managing the animals.

For someone who is not particularly interested or enthusiastic by science, and always pictured Charles Darwin as the old bearded gentleman behind the theory of evolution, this show got me excited as I experienced the world as Darwin did. It was a joy to be witness to his youthful exploration and to see an inexperienced side to him and watch that grow with each new discovery. The show is 2 hours and 10 minutes long, including interval, and is something that all the family would enjoy. Bookable until 30 December 2018, the show is full of wonder and magic and is not one to miss, book early to avoid disappointment.

Photo Credit: Mark Douet