Charles Darwin’s legendary voyage aboard the HMS Beagle is set to be re-envisioned by Brisbane puppetmaking troupe Dead Puppet Society in a new world premier Queensland Theatre Company production in July.
After three years of development, David Morton’s The Wider Earth is coming to life as a stage production which incorporates human actors and over 30 custom-created puppets.
The intricate puppets bring creatures to life ranging in size from the tiniest longhorn beetle to the ancient Galapagos tortoise to the majestic southern right whale, to recount Darwin’s voyage that took him around the world, studying previously undiscovered animal species.
David Morton is the artistic director of Dead Puppet Society with his partner Nicholas Paine (both pictured below). David wrote The Wider Earth and is also directing and designing the production.
“The Wider Earth is a coming of age story about science and faith, and how one doubting young man with a questing heart set out to ask a question of Mother Nature, and found the answer to everything,” David said.
“We’re so excited that this work will bring human performers and our puppet characters together in a meaningful way that isn’t often seen in mainstream theatre.”
Actor Tom Conroy (pictured, below), who plays Charles Darwin in the play, said Nick and David’s team had specially laser-printed and cut the beautiful puppets.
“What they do in terms of the show is allow us to enter into what could be a fairly dry story about science and actually make it very much about the living beings and give you the sense of wonder you feel when you watch David Attenborough documentaries,” he said.
“We’re able to have sharks and whales, and the beautiful beagle who’s Charles’ best friend on board the boat. It allows us to take the human story that underpins the play and give it a heightened realism.”
From age 22, Darwin journeys from the dizzying heights of the Andes to the depths of the Amazon rainforest, through the storms of Tierra del Fuego, to the endless wonders of the Galapagos Islands over five years.
“During that time, he made many observations about geology and the animals around him and from those he formed his theory of evolution,” Tom said.
“In our play there’s a very human element as well. We’ve created Charles Darwin as a very young, naive dreamer. He doesn’t want to join the clergy, which is what he almost did.
“He went on the voyage instead. He loved nature and wasn’t pursuing any grand goal but during that time he slowly started to realise things about the world around him that nobody else had.”
Tom said one of the play’s major themes was Darwin grappling with the ramificiations of his scientific inquiries.
“One of the characters on board the boat is a priest and as Charles’ questioning of Creationism gets more pointed as the voyage goes on, it runs up against the priest’s beliefs and the widely-held religious beliefs of the time,” he said.
On his voyage, Darwin clashes with the hot-tempered, neurotic Captain Fitzroy and finds a friend in steadfast Scotsman Wickham (played by Thomas Larkin), the Beagle’s second-in-command, who would go on to become one of Brisbane’s most celebrated early residents and Moreton Bay District’s first police magistrate.
Australian singer-songwriter Lior has produced a score for the show with producer Tony Buchen, marking the first time Lior has produced music for the theater.
“Because of the nature of the story and the world we are creating, our collaboration with Lior and Buchen is absolutely and totally perfect,” David said.
“We worked with both of them to create an original score to accompany the entire production, given the important role the music will play in supporting the visual storytelling of this production.”
The Wider Earth opens at the Queensland Theatre Company’s Bille Brown Studio in South Brisbane on July 14. For more information and tickets visit Queenland Theatre Company’s website and for more photos from all their productions like them on Facebook.