Above: Margi Brown Ash guides the good ship Beagle. Right: The talented Tom Conroy
as the young Charles Darwin.
The Wider Earth
Written and directed by David Morton
QTC and The Dead Puppet Society
Bille Brown Studio
Season: July 9-August 7. Bookings: 1800 355 528 or queenslandtheatre.com.au Running time two hours including interval.
I have been advised that it was not clear in my review that I was attending the first preview, the first public performance of the play. Well It was and I did attend.
Before the show began David Morton the Director introduced himself and chatted to the audience about what they could expect with the first Preview. He warned us that they may have to stop the performance but hopefully they would be able to carry on through. This is what happens with previews.
As it happened there were no stops, the cast and crew were splendid, and I was highly impressed with what I saw. I was also informed that I should not have done a review on a preview, but I was unaware of that.
All that said I did review the show and was very impressed with what I saw.
This is an extraordinary piece of theatre.
It is visually brilliant with a lighting plot from David Walters and some amazing animation from Justin Harrison that flits around a screen that stretches the entire width of the stage, Add to this beautifully emotive music from Lior and Tony Buchen, an evocative sound design from Tony Brumpton and a set design from David Morton and Aaron Barton that is so versatile and practical and yet looks every inch a sailing ship. And of course you add to this the clever creatures created by the puppetry team that is an integral part of the narrative.
It an aural and visual feast rarely seen on stage and on the night I Was there it won a standing ovation and cheers from the house-full audience.
Fitting in with this aura is the story of the tousle-haired young Charles Darwin and his voyage on the HMS Beagle, which like Star Trek’s USS Enterprise was on a five-year mission of discovery. It was the journey in which his discoveries challenged the Christian religion’s dogma of creation.
There was heart-thumping drama, some laughs and nicely romantic moments
It was indeed an epic journey, and Morton’s script truly gave the feel of this, despite a running time less than two hours.
There were eight actors on stage; some played multiple roles and worked as puppeteers and Robert Coleby’s dulcet tones spoke a background narrative as an old Charles Darwin. It was one of those plays where every character was strong and every actor was strong enough to play it.
Tom Conroy was Darwin; a seemingly feckless youth doomed to be a clergyman, but whose mind was yearning for the big adventure. He was known for his love of collecting bugs and an insatiable appetite for knowledge of his subject. Conroy began as the awkward would be suitor of Anna Wedgewood, played beautifully in period by Lauren Jackson, through the growing pains of amazement of his discoveries, and finally to the stunning revelation of what his notes on the origin of the species would have on the world.
It was an outstanding performance; so too was that of Anthony Standish as the Beagle’s captain, Robert Fitzroy. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him work especially his interactions with Darwin.
Thomas Larkin was the ship’s officer John Wickham, a character with strength and wry humour and I particularly enjoyed David Lynch as the Rev, Richard Matthews as the priest of conviction who fell prey to the realities of missionary life in South America. It was a poignant point in the play. He also switched nicely to play Darwin’s father.
Jemmy Button’s role as the South American youngster “saved” by the Church, was not large but vitally important in showing the attitudes of the British at the time.
An audience winner was Polly the dog, worked by Puppet captain Anna Straker and Margi Brown Ash strutted the stage as only she can as the Reverend John Henslow and the frisky pipe-smoking seaman Johns Herschell.
She also worked a few puppets and looked as she was enjoying the show as much as I was.
This one is selling out fast, so get in quick. It is one not to be missed.