Prepare to see Charles Darwin as you’ve never seen him before
The image of Charles Darwin with his thoughtful face and impressive beard is famous the world over, as is his theory of evolution, but while the elderly scientist is a familiar figure fewer people are acquainted with the adventures that led to his fame. Young Darwin steps into the spotlight in The Wider Earth, an innovative play currently housed – very appropriately – in a purpose-built theatre at London’s Natural History Museum.
Charles Darwin was just 22 when he defied his father’s wishes, abandoned his training for the church and joined the crew of the HMS Beagle as a naturalist. His experience on the five-year voyage around the globe would change this young man forever. Collecting samples and studying the wildlife wherever he landed led him to one of the most revolutionary scientific theories of all time. Although the focus of the play is Darwin’s transition from bright-eyed student to notable naturalist, The Wider Earth also explores his struggles with social issues of the time and the internal conflict between his discoveries and his faith.
A cast of seven, a clever revolving set and a series of illustrations and animations create Darwin’s world and the people who shaped his journey. The animals he encountered along the way take the form of breath-taking puppetry – from delicate butterflies and a shy armadillo to a comical iguana and a majestic giant tortoise, the puppets are a huge draw for the play and really bring the story to life. Children may struggle to keep up with some of the dialogue, but they’ll be entranced by the visual spectacle and the sense of adventure.
Following his stubborn heart and inquisitive nature, Charles Darwin could not have known that his ideas would change the world completely and alter the way we look at the entire animal kingdom. Forget the photo of a serious old man in black and white; watch The Wider Earth and you’ll see Darwin at his most dazzling.
The Wider Earth plays at the Natural History Museum until the 30th December.
Photos by Mark Douet