Saturday, 20 January 2018

2018: The Wider Earth

Emily Burton, Tom Conroy, Thomas Larkin
The Wider Earth by Writer / Director / Co-Designer / Puppet Designer David Morton.  Sydney Festival: Queensland Theatre and Dead Puppet Society co-presented with Sydney Opera House, Drama Theatre, January 6 – 28, 2018.

Dead Puppet Society acknowledges St Ann’s Warehouse as the original development partner.

Creative Producer / Puppet Fabricator – Nicholas Paine; Co-Designer – Aaron Barton; Lighting Designer – David Walters; Co-Composer – Lior; Co-Composer – Tony Buchen; Sound Designer – Tony Brumpton; AV/Animation Designer – Justin Harrison; Dramaturg – Louise Gough.

Assistant Puppet Coach – Helen Stephens; Voice and Dialect Coach – Melissa Agnew; Illustrator (AV) and Puppet Arting – Anna Straker; Puppet Fabricator – Matthew Seery; Puppet Arting – Jen Livingstone; Puppet Fabricator (Secondment) – Tia-Hanee Cleary.

Technical Manager – Sam Maher; Stage Manager – Nicole Neil.

Cast: (alphabetical order)
Margi Brown Ash – Reverend John Henslow; Emily Burton – Emma Wedgwood; Tom Conroy – Charles Darwin; Thomas Larkin – John Wickham; David Lynch – Richard Matthews / Robert Darwin / John Herschel; Anthony Standish – Robert Fitzroy; Jaime Ureta – Jemmy Button.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 20

Photos by Jamie Williams

The set design for The Wider Earth
Video screen above, the full width of the stage
The revolve showing one aspect used for on board The Beagle and other locations,
here on Galapagos

 “If your theory is fit, it will survive.” – David Morton, whose  The Wider Earth is that wonderful, all too rare theatre in which form and content are unified.  What’s more it’s a great example of the art of communicating science.

Even though Charles Darwin himself began a perpetual misunderstanding by writing that evolution is the “survival of the ‘fittest’” – which uncomprehending people ever since have interpreted as meaning ‘biggest and strongest’ – at last, in this grand theatrical story of Darwin’s moment of epiphany, we get the real picture.  The procession of evolving new species and extinction of others is all about the often tiny changes in all the small parts which at any moment in time fit together to make up the whole.

Dead Puppet Society’s Morton, thanking the Queensland Theatre “who were responsible for elevating this project from a playful exploration into a fully-fledged work”, states his hopes – that I say he has fully achieved – writing “The Wider Earth is a work of fiction drawn loosely from the historical record.  It takes memories of real people, places and events and passes them through the lens of myth.  Some may call it blasphemous.  Others may caution that the simplicity of the tale undermines the real work of its hero.  I hope it might stand as a celebration of the incredible complexity of our planet, and go some way towards humanising the part played by those brave enough to stand against the dominant thought of their time.”

It’s exciting to see the mystery of art in action.  Can you imagine making clear the scientific thinking process Darwin went through on his first trip around the world in The Beagle, as he observed and was almost trapped in volcanic eruptions in the Land of Fires (Tierra del Fuego) on the tip of South America, returning to England finally after five years (via the Galapagos, Hobart and Cape Town) – using a revolving stage, a video projector, a few coloured lights, a sound system, a few (expensive) actors that you can dress up, and the idea that animals can be represented by puppets on the ends of sticks, visibly manipulated by actors when they’re not doing something else?

If you find it hard to see how you would do it, then it would take me pages of writing to describe.  It’s a great shame if you can’t get to see it for yourself, but all I can say is this team have done it! That’s why I’ve listed all their names, to show how huge the task has been – and how amazing that all these people could make David Morton’s ‘fiction’ tell a truth which has fundamentally changed our understanding of life on earth.

The Wider Earth is a Wider Understanding of ourselves.  Please try not to miss it.  I hope it can continue to be played long after the end of this season in only 8 days’ time.

Darwin with his favourite beagle in
The Wider Earth

Darwin examines an iguanadon on Galapagos
in The Wider Earth

Darwin feeds a turtle on Galapagos
in The Wider Earth

© Frank McKone, Canberra

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