Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle was legendary, the observations he made as he encountered the extraordinary collection of exotic animals and plants combined with  the notes he took, would later coalesce into his masterwork ‘On The Origin Of Species’.  This book would upset and realign the scientific and religious worlds forever. This is the basis for David Morton‘s, The Wider Earth. The story is told as a flashback.

This is an epic production. Panorama projections, a revolving set and puppetry. It is rich and it is lavish but it is slightly melodramatic. Not that the audience seemed to mind. Performances were all top notch led by Tom Conroy as Darwin who is charming, naïve and driven. Margi Brown Ash, Emily Burton, Thomas Larkin, David Lynch, Anthony Standish and Jaime Ureta all support this production with quality performances. When not on stage they take over as puppeteers wandering the stage operating birds, tortoises, puppy dogs and many other animals.

The set is deceptively simple but brilliant in its conception and design. In shadow it looks like a large piece of coal or a seismic thrust of rock. As it revolves and the actors scramble over or around it, we find ourselves in the room of a house, a side of a hill or the cabin of the ship.  The puppets (David Morton design and Nicholas Paine Fabricator) are also well designed and work beautifully with the production. To complete the overall look of the show David Walters lighting is dramatic and impacting. The only piece of the puzzle that felt a little overdone was Tony Brumpton‘s Sound Design. It was heavy and at times too intrusive, sometimes to the detriment of the (micro-phoned or recorded) actors’ dialogue. It gave the whole production a feel over over-dramatic emphasis building to heavy chords as scenes climaxed.

There was also an odd decision from the overall production design. We find the young Darwin telling his story to the love he had left waiting for him. As he begins to tell her of his journey we are flung back in time to witness it. Strangely the voiceover that then guides us through the journey is an old Darwin. It should have been in the voice of the young Darwin who was telling his girlfriend (and us) the story.

Those issues aside this is a very slick and professional production that will do well.

Lynden Jones – Theatre Now & On The Town

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