The play follows a vital period of a 22 year old Charles Darwin’s life as he sets sail on a voyage of discovery that “Changes his life before he changes the world”. The English naturalist, geologist and biologist (1809 – 1882) has completed his degree at Cambridge University and sets sail on one of the most important voyages of discovery in scientific history. It is much to the despair of his father but Darwin feels that “All that’s left in this country is old rocks”. The epic five year, cramped voyage on the HMS Beagle is never plain sailing though; weathering storms at sea, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and that’s not including the atmospheric pressures aboard the ship. Darwin’s views were controversial and conflicting with the religious views of the God-fearing population of the 1830s. He challenged their theories on how the world was created and the creatures living within it. He also defiantly opposes slavery in a heated debate with the ship’s captain, Robert Fitzroy and becomes increasingly unafraid to disagree with the status quo. It is on the trip that he garners his extensive ideas on the theory of evolution and later that century, he releases his book ‘The Origin of the Species’.
This is a compelling production, full of escapism with pretty and informative illustrations by Justin Harrison, projected on screen behind the action and signposting each new destination. There’s a fair amount of information to take in as half a decade is after all spanned across a couple of hours and you do feel the relentless nature of the voyage which I suppose is kind of inevitable. This did lead my eight year daughter to conclude that she’d really enjoyed it but it was a little wordy! Recommended to those aged eight and above, I’d surmise that those ten and older would fully appreciate the piece as an incredibly interesting historical journey. The wonderful and clever set revolved on the stage and its stature lent itself well to represent mountains or the side of the vessel and then it would turn to reveal the ship’s deck. The performances are strong and impassioned, especially Bradley Foster as Darwin who encapsulates his curious and dogged nature but with a gentleness which reflected how much he valued life.
We relished every moment that the puppets were on stage. Butterflies danced and surprising fireflies sparkled alongside armadillos, iguanas and cormorants. Produced by the Dead Puppet Society, the beautiful creatures were deftly manipulated. My naturalist-in-the-making daughter, a passionate collector of many trinkets from nature, adored the giant Galapagos turtle while I found the shoal of hundreds of iridescent fish, swimming in perfect harmony, utterly beautiful. Darwin is the only character who doesn’t handle the puppets and this enhances the experience of us looking on in wonder with him, at these fascinating creatures that he learnt so much from.
It was a wonderful afternoon spent at this magnificent museum, a custodian of many specimens collected by Charles Darwin on his various expeditions. Hopefully this production will inspire us to reflect upon, look after and protect our natural environment and all life within it.
Written and Directed by: David Morton
Produced by: Nicholas Paine
Box office: 0844 715 7141
Booking link: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/the-wider-earth.html
Booking until: 30th December 2018