First look at The Wider Earth

Friday 14 September 2018

Off-West End - Shows

We get a sneak peak from the cast and creative team of the award-winning Darwin drama The Wider Earth, due at the Natural History Museum from 2 October - 30 December 2018.
Original production shot from The Wider Earth at the Natural History Museum

Original production - photo courtesy Prudence Upton

With two more weeks of rehearsals before their show - The Wider Earth - begins previews at London's world-renowned Natural History Museum, the cast and creative team invited the press into the newly-built theatre today for a viewing of a short scene and to take a closer look at the stunning puppets which feature in the piece.

The Wider Earth runs at the Natural History Museum from 2 October to 30 December 2018 (tickets are available here) and focuses on the voyages of the young Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle.

To accommodate the show, a new 357-seat theatre is in the process of being built in the museum's Jerwood Gallery.

With still some time before paying audiences enter the theatre for the first time, the gallery already has the basics of the set in place.

Shipped over from Australia in a container, the set features a rotating stage with space for the interior of HMS Beagle on one side and an abstract design on the other side to provide locations, like rocky outcrops on remote islands from which Darwin collected his multifarious specimens.

As you'll see from the photo from the Australian production at the top of the page, a large projection screen at the back of the set provides space for more detailed elements of the various settings and locations to describe Darwin's voyage.

Watching the cast in action clambering over the moving set, whilst manipulating puppet animals, suggests they need considerable skill and spot-on timing.

That, however, doesn't seem to daunt them at all, even if several of them have no previous experience of puppeteering.

But others among the company, like Ian Houghton, Andrew Bridgmont and Matt Tait have previously been in shows like the hugely successful War Horse.

Led by paleobiologist Professor Adrian Lister, author of Darwin's Fossils, the museum's scientists are working closely with the creative producers, and in the early stages of rehearsals the cast got to see some of Darwin's actual specimens in the museum's extensive and unique collection.

30 amazing hand-made puppets bring to the stage the tropical wildlife Darwin encountered on his voyage and are as much the stars of the show as the cast who bring them to life.

From tiny Galapagos finches, to giant tortoises and a fossilised glyptodon, a multitude of fish and a substantial shark, the puppets have been made following observations in the field and extensive analysis of anatomical drawings.

The Wider Earth at the Natural History Museum

Puppet from The Wider Earth - courtesy of The Trustees of the Natural History Museum

Created over the past two years, the puppets have had their final stages of fabrication and modification at the museum's Darwin Centre which sits right alongside the Jerwood Gallery where the show will be playing.

The puppets are designed on computer and cleverly incorporate moving parts, some of which almost work automatically rather then requiring too much manipulation by their actor puppeteers.

The puppets are intricately detailed and hugely effective, and the cast seem to be getting very protective of their own 'animals'.

Written and directed by Dead Puppet Society's Creative Director David Morton, The Wider Earth was initially conceived in 2013 in Cape Town during a mentorship with Handspring Puppet Company, the creative team behind the hugely successful War Horse.

The Wider Earth at the Natural History Museum

Cast of The Wider Earth at the Natural History Museum (courtesy of The Trustees of the Natural History Museum)

The full cast for this ingenious production are:

Robert Darwin/Richard Matthews - Ian Houghton (War Horse, New London Theatre; This House, Garrick Theatre and UK Tour; The Audience, Gielgud Theatre)

Henslow/Herschel/Sailor - Andrew Bridgmont (War Horse, National Theatre; Penny Dreadful, Sky Atlantic; Faustus, Headlong Theatre)

Wickham - Matt Tait (War Horse, National Theatre; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, West End; Dancing at Lughnasa, Lyric Belfast)

Charles Darwin - Bradley Foster (Common, National Theatre; Lessons in Love and Violence, Royal Opera House; Frequently Asked Questions, New Wolsey Theatre)

Fitzroy - Jack Parry-Jones (Moon Dogs, World Pictures; BANG, Joio Production/Artist Studio/S4C; Macbeth, China Plate)

Jemmy - Marcello Cruz (Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Globe; The Rook, Lionsgate/Starz)

Emma Wedgwood/Sailor - Melissa Vaughan (Night Must Fall, Salisbury Playhouse/Tour; The City and The City, Mammoth Screen for BBC; Consensual, Wuthering Heights and The Merchant of Venice, West End Rep Season at The Ambassadors Theatre)

Walking Understudy - Rory Fairbairn (The Importance of Being Earnest, Immersion Theatre; Journey's End, Immersion Theatre/Mesh Theatre Co.; Jekyll and Hyde, Lion and Unicorn Theatre)

Understudy/ASM - Kim Scopes (A Christmas Carol, Sonia Friedman Productions; Newzoids, ITV/Factory; Becca's Brunch, Nick Jr/JAM Media/Factory).

Nicholas Paine and David Morton of Dead Puppet Society said ...

"What makes this work special is its unique approach to storytelling, casting talented actors to play famous historical figures, who bring to life an array of incredible creatures through masterful puppetry.

We're thrilled to be working with our original Australian creative team of composers and designers to stage The Wider Earth in such an incredible building."

Judging by what we saw today, The Wider Earth looks like offering a unique and fascinating theatrical experience in a novel setting - an experience not to be missed!

Here's the trailer ...


Join the 22-year-old Darwin on HMS Beagle's daring voyage to the far side of the world, and discover the gripping story behind one of the most important discoveries in history.

The Wider Earth features a cast of seven, remarkable puppetry, an original score and cinematic animations to bring to life uncharted landscapes in the theatrical event of 2018.


Charles Darwin - Bradley Foster

Robert Darwin/Richard Matthews - Ian Houghton

Reverend John Henslow/ Sir John Herschel - Andrew Bridgmont

Robert FitzRoy - Jack Parry-Jones

Jemmy Button - Marcello Cruz

John Clements Wickham/ Adam Sedgwick - Matt Tait

Emma Wedgwood - Melissa Vaughan

Understudy - Rory Fairbairn

Understudy (Emma Wedgwood) - Kim Scopes


Author: David Morton
Composer: Lior, Tony Buchen
Director: David Morton
Designer: David Morton, Aaron Barton
Lighting: David Walters; Lee Curran (UK lighting)
Sound: Tony Brumpton
Projections: Justin Harrison
Dramaturg: Sebastian Born (UK Production Dramaturg), Louise Gough (Australian Production Dramaturg)
Puppetry: Dead Puppet Society
Production: Trish Wadley Productions and Dead Puppet Society in association with Glass Half Full Productions


Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road


From: Tuesday 2 October 2018

Closed: Sunday 24 February 2019


Standard: From £22.50


Show website
ActDrop full listing for The Wider Earth

Charles Darwin - Wikipedia

Natural History Museum

Dead Puppet Society

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