Theatre Review: The Wider Earth @ the Natural History Museum
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The play opens to ethereal music and a low rumbling, with a starscape of slowly scintillating lasers through dry ice – lasers suspended in the air, glints of white light occasionally catching your eye. There’s an indescribable anticipation for being in one of the Museum’s hallowed halls, and all of the preshow impresses on the audience the immanence of an Event. An indescribable dark shape skulks in the centre of the room, a mysterious part of our discovery.
Images courtesy of Chloe Nelkin ConsultingThis shape turns out to be the set, a hulking structure of wood which at certain angles is part ship, part building. One side is predominantly hills/cliffs/icebergs/coastlines, and the other, hollow, predominantly classroom/ship-deck/living room, giving a nice variety of sets with a minimum of clunky changeovers. The revolution and rotation is used quite cleverly in scenes and montages to create a sense of lateral movement, for example a prehistoric fish swimming as the puppeteer stands still and the background moves. Revolves seem to be very much “in” right now for high-concept theatre (Les Mis, War Horse, Hamilton) but it’s used very well here, particularly when used to create that sense of travel, like those rolling backgrounds in old fashioned film, and it felt quite a fresh innovation in this smaller-scale production. The production is, as it happens, sentimental and affected, and the acting throughout is declamatory and obvious – but that criticism hits at the intention behind this production. This isn’t a play that adults would go to theatre to enjoy as a piece of drama. It’s interesting for an adult to watch and learn about Darwin’s biography, but the key audience is children, and it’s certainly wonderful theatre for children (as an adult, it’s possible to appreciate that fact intellectually while still enjoying the play). Tellingly, children go free to this production.
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