The Wider Earth combines a powerful cast, classic storytelling tropes, and the historical journey of a renowned theorist to create a beautiful and inspiring piece of theatre.
The Wider Earth tracks the incredible journey of Charles Darwin as he discovers what would become his life’s work. This remarkable story and epic journey is presented with the narration and constant presence of Darwin on stage, and brought to life with beautiful design, clever and playful puppetry, and a congregation of characters that cross colonies and continents.
The most striking factor of the production is the unrelenting team of designers. Anna Straker’s illustrations and Justin Harrison’s multimedia provided a beautiful, informative and elaborate backdrop that stretched across the stage’s length behind the set. The multimedia screen presented a further digital design element to the production, as well as providing additional visuals and information to accompany various locations, props, and details within the dialogue. The stage that sits in front of the screen may have seemed wooden and simplistic to begin with, however it provided an intricate platform for the multitude of stage settings, landscapes and continents crossed. Every inch of the revolving set was utilised with smooth, creative and constructive consideration, particularly when flipping between land and ship settings.
David Walter’s lighting design added gorgeous colour to the already detailed design, providing heat during the formidable weather at sea, and depth when the darkest moments of the play and the deepest ocean creatures were introduced. Finally, Tony Brumpton and Tony Buchen composed and designed a beautiful, ambient, and epic musical score and soundscape to finish off the immaculate layering of design within the show. The music and sound boomed through the theatre at a movie cinema volume which was mostly engaging, yet occasionally became an issue when overpowering the voices of live actors. Actors such as David Lynch were forced to compete with the music during moments that would have benefited from a softer volume. For example, despite Lynch’s efforts, Richard Matthews’ initial public prayer to initiate the crew’s voyage was muffled by the soundscape, causing Matthews’ second public prayer later in the show to lose its impact. Regardless of these minor technical flaws, the design was thick with creativity and communal purpose from a list of creatives who’s work is truly remarkable.
From the moment the show begins, there is a strong sense of the connection between the ensemble of actors. They are connected body and spirit from puppet to person, making what is already a fantastic cast even more powerful and tantalising to watch. Honourable mentions go to Tom Conroy for his heartwarming portrayal of Charles Darwin, Lauren Jackson as the effervescent and powerful Emma Wedgwood, and David Lynch as both Richard Matthews and Robert Darwin. Conroy takes the jittery and verile Charles Darwin in his youth and brings out his heart, bravery and determination, while Jackson’s performance honours the memory of Emma Wedgewood’s love and support across Darwin’s five year journey.
Finally Lynch’s performance of both Darwin’s father Robert, and then as priest Richard Matthews, creates a complicated, parental presence for Charles throughout the show. Lynch exercises restraint when necessary and vulnerability when crucial, his performance connects with the audience consistently, and showcases his range right to the end. The only issue with the ensemble comes down to a casting choice as opposed to an actor weakness. While Jonty Martin does a excellent job in an important role as Jemmy Button, the fact that a white actor has been cast as an indigenous South American character is problematic. With an indigenous South American boy taken from his homeland being played by a white Australian, when so many multicultural performers could have been embraced, this decision brought down what was otherwise a fantastic cast, awe-inspiring show and important story.
With a production that is so loaded with design and multimedia it is a credit to the director and writer David Morton that the storyline stays afloat. The narrative and characters rightfully remain the star of the show, and the overwhelming journey between sets, locations and continents is held together with a prowess that is confident and well considered. When pairing Morton’s confident direction with the show’s playful puppets, adaptable set, and the various digital contextualisations on screen, the production definitely works hard to ensure the audience is brought along on their journey. The intricate layers of direction and design help the audience maintain a grasp of the action through set transitions, while still being able to absorb the elegance in each and every detail on stage.
From England to the Amazon, The Wider Earth covers confronting topics, ruthless weather and complicated roles and relationships. The production with all of its intricacies and efforts is sublime. It is a beautiful result to come from the pairing of Dead Puppet’s Society and Queendland Theatre Company, inspiring excitement for the show’s current season and eventual legacy that can connect proudly with that of Charles Darwin’s.
– Written by Rhumer Diball July 15th 2016
THE WIDER EARTH PRESENTED BY DEAD PUPPETS SOCIETY AND QUEENSLAND THEATRE COMPANY.
SAT JUL 9 – SUN 7 AUG 2016.
Photo credit Dylan Evans.