There’s a certain, old-style schoolboy thrill about this Australian import. A play about Charles Darwin’s legendary round-the-world voyage on the HMS Beagle, staged after hours in the Natural History Museum: it’s the kind of show that makes you feel 11 again.
There’s a lot that 11-year-olds would love about The Wider Earth. Writer and director David Morton’s story is packed with enough puppetry, projections and pulsating music to blow a young audience away. The recently-graduated Darwin is whisked from Cambridge to the Galapagos and back again in a filmic, fast-paced frenzy of snippety scenes, movement sequences, and impressively articulated wooden animals.
But impressive as the Dead Puppet Society’s giant turtles look, there’s not actually much for grown-ups to sink their teeth into here. Morton’s script is basically a succession of emphatically epic, awkwardly expositional exchanges, which rarely last longer than two or three lines. There’s enough scientific titbits to satisfy a school trip, but there’s a desert when it comes to genuine drama.
The cast don’t exactly embrace understatement either: Bradley Foster’s beardless Darwin is appropriately endearing, and Jack Parry-Jones is sufficiently strapping as Captain Fitzroy, but although everyone clambers over Aaron Barton’s rotating wooden set with enthusiasm, they’re all just a bit too shouty.
This is the first play to be staged in a new performance space built inside the Natural History Museum. It’s not all that sophisticated, but it’s staged with enough rocket fuel to see it over the line.