‘The Wider Earth’ review

Theatre, Puppetry Natural History Museum , Brompton Until Sunday February 24 2019
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(27user reviews)
The Wider Earth, Natural History Museum 2018
© Mark Douet Bradley Foster

Gorgeous puppet animals and a lot of exposition tell the story of Charles Darwin’s epic voyage on the HMS Beagle

We’re all so familiar with that photo of Charles Darwin – you know the one, it’s two-thirds beard – that we forget that the august father of the theory of evolution was ever a young, bright-eyed, idealistic man. In fact, when Darwin boarded the HMS Beagle for the five-year-voyage to South America, the Galápagos islands, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa that laid the foundations for his theory, he was only 22 years old. 

Performed in a pop-up theatre in the actual Natural History Museum, ‘The Wider Earth’ follows the Beagle on its epic half-decade journey across the world. Young Darwin, played with declarative boyish earnestness by Bradley Foster, is a well-intentioned renegade with a lot of heart and rather less tact. The Beagle’s captain, a robust man of God named Robert FitzRoy (Jack Parry-Jones), has brought him aboard as the ship’s naturalist.

Darwin gets his credentials straight for the audience early on. He quarrels with his captain about slavery, thinking it the most horrible thing he was ever seen. He reacts with innocent wonder to nature’s riches around him. He’s loveable, if a bit predictably nice. 

These gold standards of character have to be set up in order for the play to tackle the thorny problems of empire, colonialism, and the sheer bloody terror of discovering that Christian scripture might have the whole creation thing wrong. David Morton’s script is replete with leitmotifs and call-backs, and in those there is a glimpse of deep feeling, but it's about 80 percentexposition .

What lights the stage up is not the dialogue, which is occasionally inaudible under the soundtrack, but the gorgeous puppets by the Dead Puppet Society, and the outstanding stage design. Galápagos finches flit; stately giant tortoises march; schools of fishes twinkle between predatory sharks; a nervous armadillo curls up in a ball. The rotating wooden structure that dominates the stage transforms into mountain, cabin, rigging, house or rainforest, and its spin adds a vital sense of motion to the story. Scenery is projected onto a screen hanging above, seemingly sketched by hand, and the effect of the whole is pretty stupendous. In such carefully planned stagecraft, the awe and wonder of the young Darwin feels, just for a scene at a time, totally, humanly present.

By: Ka Bradley

Posted:

Venue name: Natural History Museum
Contact:
Address: Cromwell Road
London
SW7 5BD
Opening hours: Daily 10am-5.50pm (last admission 5.30pm)
Transport: Tube: South Kensington
Price: £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available
Event website: https://thewiderearth.com/
Static map showing venue location
    • Natural History Museum £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available Book online
    • Natural History Museum £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available Book online
    • Natural History Museum £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available Book online
    • Natural History Museum £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available Book online
    • Natural History Museum £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available Book online
    • Natural History Museum £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available Book online
    • Natural History Museum £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available Book online
    • Natural History Museum £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available Book online
    • Natural History Museum £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available Book online
    • Natural History Museum £19.50-£79.50, discounts for NHM members available Book online
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Average User Rating

3.9 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:9
  • 4 star:10
  • 3 star:5
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|27
1 person listening
Tastemaker

In saying that this production was exactly what I was expecting is no bad thing. Being housed in the Jerwood Gallery right next to the Darwin Centre of The Natural History Museum, it was evident from the outset that this would be a quality production based on fact. The play charts Darwin's early life and travels, and as his ships set sail and dock in various exotic locations around the globe the animals he encounters take the form of many puppets. These are beautifully controlled inaccurate portrayal of the creatures they represent by his co-stars. It is as enjoyable as it is informative and as I said from the outset while there's nothing too groundbreaking here, it's reassuringly well done.

tastemaker

What better location than to learn of the life of Charles Darwin and his journey on the HMS Beagle than the Natural History Museum! The play focuses on the struggle Darwin had leaving all he's known, defying his father's wishes to join the church, and leaving the love of his life to see the world and forming the basis of his theory of evaluation.


The story is a bit slow, let's be real, making a story about a 5 year boat journey is difficult to do, but the actors do a really good at trying to grip your attention for the duration of the play. Don't expect War Horse level of puppetry, but the puppetry is still well done! The use of the revolving stage and projection was quite clever. Majority of the play is exposition though, and we don't get to see Darwin's struggle at getting the scientific community to accept his theories.


Might be too slow for kids, but if you're a science geek, love puppets and want to see a play in a fantastic building, then The Wider Earth is for you! 

tastemaker

Seeing a play in a museum was something that I had never done before and The Wider Earth made it a fantastic first experience. The puppets were the highlight of the show, beautiful and elegant, and the few actors on stage helped make them very magical. A nice storyline as well about Darwin and its incredible journey, set in a beautiful revolving stage.

tastemaker

I was really impressed by the fact of going to the museum to see a play. It was a bit as if two of my favourite activities  would be getting married. It was a fantastic journey through the life of the young Darwin. The type of story I've never heard before. What particularly stroke me was the poesy of the puppets, and the grace of their movements. It sometimes felt as if I was watching a dance performance. I was also seduced by the background's design. They've opted for a sketching style as if you read a journal. Instead of just being a nice thing to have, it really looked arty and added to the whole show. That's a delightful and creative play that will make you want to know more about Darwin.

Tastemakertastemaker

I had literally no expectations for this show.  I've never been to the NHM for a theatre production, didn't realise it was based on similar technology to war horse for the animals nor how few actors there were on stage.


1) staging - it is in the round with a rotating set that literally covers everything from the Galapagos isles to the interior of a ship.  Really minimal fixed props but used really inventively


2) cast - total of 7 actors play every possible role and with just small changes of costume, leaves for a very intimate feeling with the cast


3) props - those are able to use their imagination to suspend disbelief will love this, you can be transported through time to a world of animals and evolution


4) seating - agree with some of the comments below, I was lucky enough to sit in the 5th row which would usually mean being very close to the action, unfortunately in this instance it meant not being able to see the projection writing or all of the elements of the stage.  I didn't think this hindered my enjoyment though and certainly wouldn't mean I would not recommend people to go.


If you are not familiar with the story of Darwin don't worry! It is a nice retelling that takes you on his journey with him, if you are it's a wonderful retelling of what you already know.  Go before the end of the year and don't forget to take the kids (grown-up or otherwise)!

Tastemaker

I had high expectations for Wider Earth, being a big fan of War Horse. When I first showed up at the Natural History Museum (which I think is an AMAZING venue for such a show), I literally walked around 3/4 of the compound just to find the entrance. And it is a BIG compound... After finally entering the theatre, I was surprised to find that the first 10 or so rows DO NOT HAVE A RAKE. So this is a warning for those who love sitting close to the stage. The set is abnormally high as well, and it blocks the wraparound screen behind, which to me is a waste as the screen really added to the show. The puppetry was probably the best part of the show and I really wished there was more of it. Acting was fine and the story was simple and easy to follow. There are better shows currently running but if you want something unique and different from a standard west end date then this could be considered...

Tastemaker

Creative and captivating set and prop design really carry this impressive show housed in the beautiful Natural History Museum.

Being close to the front of the stage meant that it was difficult to appreciate the narrative depicted on the panoramic screens behind the stage but it does put you close enough to really marvel at Darwin's discovered creatures. I'll be the first to admit that I was cynical about the sound of puppetry and yet each creature and its distinctive movement across the stage was mesmerizing and has left a lasting impression on me!

The script felt a little primitive and predictable at times but enthusiastic acting kept it all moving swiftly forward. Ultimately, it's inflamed a dormant curiosity in me about the natural world in the way that only usually Attenborough can, and that's no mean feat.

tastemaker

An amazing play that exceeded all expectations!


The voyage of Charles Darwin was brought to life through an exciting medley of animation, puppetry, sound, lighting and theatre. The star of the show was the set. So simple and modern, the revolving stage became a university, a ship, and an island with small transformations with every turn. I was also so impressed with the modest cast of 7, who played their multiple parts very well. The dialogue felt a little wooden at points, but the artistry around it really lifted the whole performance. 


I love it when shows are resourceful and smart with their set and cast, and Wider Earth certainly brought this to life with imagination and flair. One of the best shows I've seen this year! 

tastemaker

Wider earth takes you on the adventure of Charles Darwin and his voyage of discovery. This was a really good play and the set was used very cleverly considering the size of the space. Without giving too much away, the addition of the puppets makes it very interesting and enjoyable to watch in a brilliant theatre setting.

There are only 7 cast members but it worked very well and you can distinguish their different roles within the play clearly. I would definitely recommend for all ages!


An absolutely fascinating play about the early life and voyages of Charles Darwin in a spectacular venue. The set design and puppetry are amazing and make the performance. The history of this story is charming and engaging and is highlight recommended if you are interested in Darwin and the theory of evolution. 

tastemaker

An interesting play that I would highly recommend especially for a young family. If possible sit further towards the back as the stage set somewhat blocks the screen in the background; granted, it is by no means something that gets lost when sitting in the front, however just a word of advise to get the full picture. 


The puppetry brought out some smiles/laughter from the audience, however felt like it was overdone a bit. 

Did love the fact that there are only seven actors throughout this play. 


Can see people chomping at the bits to go and explore for themselves in the always excellent Natural History Museum after having seen this play. Would recommend to anyone. 

tastemaker

Who knew that the Natural History Museum has a small theater? I certainly didn't.


If you come here expecting a big West End production, you will be disappointed. I came here with no expectation and I did thoroughly enjoy the story and the puppetry. Charles Darwin set sail around the world and discovered many animals that he had not seen at home in England. The set was very simple and at the beginning I was not sure if it would work. It did work (only just) transforming the scenes from Darwin's home to a ship to a mountain. I enjoyed the puppetry of the animals best as I had not come across it before, the cast emulated movements of a cheeky igunana, a giant tortoise, fireflies, to whale and fishes swimming fairly well . 


This play is kids friendly, so would recommend it for a family outing. 

tastemaker

Absolutely loved this play! It is a very simple story line, maybe a bit cheesy but perfect for kids (and still very interesting for the adults)! 
The lighting show was absolutely fantastic and I particularly love the bit where the cast is on a boat in a storm and I thought the lighting was particularly good then.
The puppets look amazing and I think they are a great addition to the show. 

This play is a very immersive experience and I felt like I was part of the voyage, which was pretty awesome!

tastemaker

The set design and puppetry are what make this performance.

The script was a little flat and melodramatic at times but informative if you aren't familiar with Darwins story.

The audience was mixed and I'm still a little unsure of who this is aimed at.

Overall it was a nice show but nothing to shout home about.

Tastemaker

Wider Earth is a dazzling play. Simply put, the puppetry was mesmerising, the stage was captivating, the story was riveting, the dialogue at times, gripping.


The story is simple: a young Charles Darwin goes on an epic voyage around the world that would lay the foundation for his human evolution theory. He encounters new species and a new world. It’s not the story that grips you, but the sense of wonder that you see along with the young Darwin, brilliantly played by Bradley Foster.


Surprisingly, Wider Earth deals with a wide range of problems prevalent in Darwin’s time such as slavery, colonialism and empire. Wider Earth has more depth to it than just about worldly discovery.


The stage was outstanding. The rotating structure that dominates the stage transforms into mountains, rainforest - anything that the structure wants to believe - and the scenery is projected onto a screen hanging above,  makes you sense the same awe and wonder the young Darwin would have felt on his maiden voyage.


I must admit, I didn’t know much about this play nor did I do much research beforehand about what Wider Earth was all about. I came away thoroughly entertained and beaming from the glow of this somewhat heart-warming play. We’re used to seeing portraits to see scientists like Darwin looking old and wise. It’s easy to forget that these God-like scientists were once a young person trying to find his way in the world like the rest of us. 


It’s a brilliant play for all ages. I have no problem recommending it to my friends and to everyone reading this.

tastemaker

I was really hopeful arriving to this show. The promise of puppetry and a dramatisation of Darwin's explorations. It was a poor theatrical experience.


I wasn't entirely sure who the piece was aimed at, children or adults, as it seemed to satisfy neither. The script was littered with cliché and the acting was melodramatic and lacked pace. It felt amateur which is a shame because the sound design, lighting and set were pretty incredible considering they turned a hall at the Natural History Museum into a theatrical space. I also appreciate the subject of the UK's history of colonisation and slavery brought into discussion as this is seldom talked of.


As a theatre maker, it was disheartening to overhear an audience member in the interval say "This is why I don't go to the theatre, because when I do..." I wouldn't recommend this show, however would encourage people to attend to make up their own mind. 

tastemaker

The set design is the truly beautiful and convincingly switches from Cambridge, Tenerife, Patagonia or the Galápagos Islands with each 180 degree turn. The puppets are magnificent and truly reflect the awe and wonder that Darwin felt on his 5 year voyage. Children will not only enjoy identifying them but also their life like movements. It’s the relationship between the puppy dog enthusiastic Darwin and the troubled Beagle captain, Robert FitzRoy that forms the structure of the play. The dialogue encompasses science, religion as well as Slavery. It’s fascinating to see the clash of ideals so eloquently expressed. However, the only thing I was disappointed with was that the play did not fully explain how Darwin’s trip on the Beagle connected to the disruptive Theory of Evolution.

tastemaker

Set in one of my favourite buildings / museums in London, I was excited to see 'The Wider Earth'. The show was really good, the set design was cleverly done, and enjoyed the appearance of puppets representing the exotic creatures Darwin finds on his travels. Only a small cast, with a few actors playing two parts in the show, I feel they all played they're parts well. 


All in all, a great performance, and a lovely evening out :)


Must see! Brilliant storytelling. Taken on the adventure. Brilliant retelling. On the way home my daughter couldn’t stop wondering how they made and worked the puppets.

tastemaker

From the beginning, I was immersed in a soundscape of bible extracts; awed by a dramatic, animated backdrop; and stunned by the incredible feats of lighting and set design.

The puppets were brought into existence by their wonderful operators, so much so that I gasped when an iguana puppet suddenly nipped at Darwin's fingers, and a woman behind me whispered to her companion in delight when she recognised a platypus. The skeletal design of the puppets perfectly gave the audience a glimpse of Darwin's sketches.Each actor was superb, performing truly as part of the ensemble. Darwin was, of course, wonderful -- youthful curiosity which disrupts the image of Darwin as an old, bearded man with which everyone is familiar, and brilliants reinterprets the history we think we know, and sets the Beagle's voyage in context with social issues (slavery and colonisation), and scientific breakthroughs (photography and cartography).At times, I would glance around me, and find it bizzare to be jolted out of this magical world, and remembering I was inside the old, stony walls of the NHM, and this was a true story.Absolutely fantastic. Go while it's on (but don't sit in Row A like we did: the marvellous but obtrusive set produced a slightly restricted view and caused some neck pain) to support the NHM and Dead Puppets Society to make more amazing work like this!
Tastemaker

This one is a head scratcher for me. The audience were entirely adults (and retirees) and yet the play is very clearly aimed at older children and young teens. It never touches on any real science and doesn't explain how or why Darwin came to his conclusions which I found extremely disappointing. 


The script is poor and at times vague and the revolving set is clever but over used. The acting is mediocre (but a hard job given the script) and while the design of the puppets is fantastic, the puppeteers are not. They never look at ease and, as such, it plays out very awkwardly. Given the nature (pun?) of the show, I also expected a lot more puppet time but they seem to have been added as an afterthought.


The art work on the screen at the back of the stage is beautiful and, along with the lighting, is the highlight of the play. The theatre is well equipped and it's nice to see the Natural History museum putting time and energy into a performance space. Sadly, I think a trick has been missed with Wider Earth; it could have been so much more to so many different demographics. It's a 2/5 from me but I appreciate I'm probably not the right demographic so I'll give it 3/5. If you're not young and fired up about naturalism, read his book instead. 

tastemaker

If I could rate The Wider Earth 3.5, I would. I was drawn to the back screen which changes with each location, beautifully created and cleverly crafted. The minimal set is multi-functional -rocks, home, ship. The special effects work well. The puppets bring some welcome addition to the story of Charles Darwin's early adult life as he begins his career as a naturalist, but I've seen better. But sadly, the two hours didn't fly and I wasn't spellbound.


I was excited to see this play as I'd never watched anything in the natural history museum before and the promise of an adventurous tale told through the medium of puppets was very enticing. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. 


The revolving set, music and the screen backdrop were cleverly done. The puppets were also beautifully made and handled masterfully by the actors (I would have liked to see more). However, the dialogue and storytelling offered no excitement or originality. It was somehow both simultaneously difficult to follow whilst also lacking depth. In the second half I found myself looking forward to the end. 


Not without merit, but definitely a missed opportunity to create something beautiful, original, and fresh!

Tastemaker

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a play at the Natural History museum, I didn’t realise they had a purpose built theatre on the side for this production!

The wider Earth was brillant, celeverlu done and goes through Darwin early travels around the world discovering different species and writing it in a journal.

The puppetry and actors were fantastic.

The play caters for all age ranges and I can’t wait to go back and take my nephew.

Top tip

Entrance is via queens Mary gate entrance

tastemaker

My favourite building in London, my heart sings when I see it, especially at night when it is so magically lit, and the perfect setting for the story of Darwin's early work and travels. Not quite a play in the sense of the script is not clever or interesting and the acting is enjoyable but has no intrigue or depth, but it is a great story and an adventure and I enjoyed being taken for the journey and letting my own thoughts and philosophies run free inspired by the digital projections, set design and music. The unique and imaginative element is the puppets brought to life by the cast. A great evening but not a must see.

tastemaker

I grabbed a couple of tickets for this and dragged my boyfriend along, and gosh, we were pleasantly surprised. We're all aware of the basic story/history that this play is based on but to see it brought to life in modern-day, and so creatively, was quite surprising!


This play is on a makeshift stage that's been erected in the Natural History Museum, so already it's pretty awesome as it's being shown in one of the most beautiful and historically rich buildings in London. If it hadn't been a midweek showing I would have definitely had a wonder of the museum itself before heading into the production. 


In terms of the play itself, the set design was incredible, (spoiler alert) the puppetry was also fantastic. The things not making this 5* were:

- A distinct lack of character depth. I don't want to be really harsh as I realise this is a factual and more documentary style of production but each character had only one defining emotion or trait. It would have been good to get a little more theatrical for the theatre. 

- We were sat in the third row and owing to the set design had a restricted view. I would actually suggest getting tickets further back for this play. 

- Puppetry felt a little 'been done'. Seems every play I've been to in the last year as incorporated it in some form. 


However, overall it was a good little midweek treat!

tastemaker

I went to see this play yesterday evening with my husband and we both find it surprisingly amazing! It's the story of the famous adventure of Darwin discovering the evolution of species. It is a fascinating and inspiring story for both kids and adults. 

There are just 6 actors in total but it feels like there are double the number. They are good at different roles and also moving the puppetries. 

The stage and the puppetry are the extra gem, very creative and you find yourself with the mouth open watching them. 

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