Day 5: “Representing a little bit of South America”

Cast of The Wider Earth, Natural History Museum - courtesy of Mark Douet_2
The Wider Earth Photo credit: Mark Douet

You couldn’t ask for a much more perfect show for me.

  • Puppets? Yes.
  • Evolution? Yes.
  • Natural History Museum? Yes.

Obviously as soon as it was announced that Dead Puppet Society’s The Wider Earth would be coming to London, I was immediately onto it! Some of you may know that I’m actually a Human Genetics graduate – and the evolution modules of my degree were the areas in which I was strongest (and most interested) – so I was one of the rare people who knew a bit about the voyage on HMS Beagle and when in Darwin’s life it happened, though when I first saw the show I hadn’t read The Voyage of the Beagle. I’d had a bit of a sneak peek at the stage and some of the puppets a month before press night, but nothing quite prepares you for the feeling when you head into the Jerwood Gallery.

I’m definitely glad that I’ve had the chance to see it again. This time I was sat quite a few rows further back, on the raised bank of seats, so I got a pretty much perfect view of the whole thing. It was astounding to get the bigger picture; projections, set and puppets all joining forces to create an incredibly cinematic effect. The story of Darwin and the HMS Beagle’s extended voyage is so fascinating, and it’s left me itching to get back to some science again!

The show also recently announced an extension to 24 February 2019, so there’s really no excuse for not seeing it now…

Another big draw came in the cast announcement, as Marcello Cruz (Claudio from last year’s Much Ado at the Globe) was due to be playing Jemmy Button in the show. He very kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his experiences on The Wider Earth so far.

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The Wider Earth in rehearsals Photo credit: Mark Douet

What’s your favourite Darwin-related fact that you’ve picked up?

The fact that he was only on the Beagle because his professor was asked to go but couldn’t – Charles took his place. It’s mad to think history could have panned out very differently.

What have you enjoyed the most about working on this show?

I’ve really enjoyed discovering the story of Jemmy Button, the real Jemmy I mean, and delving into that. His story is breathtaking; he went on this incredible journey between 1830 and 1833 when he was still only a teenager. It has been a joy and extremely educational being a Latino getting to learn about the Fuegians and this important part of South American history.

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Which is your favourite puppet, and why?

Without doubt ‘Squeaky’ the sea lion pup – he just has loads of character. Sea lons are so playful by nature it’s hard not to have a good time when doing it. He loves performing, he’s really teaching me a thing or two about acting!

Have you had any puppet mishaps?

Luckily I’ve gotten off lightly on that front, only small things here and there – like a lost foot or a broken leg – but for the most part they’ve all stayed together for me so far.

What has been the biggest challenge in performing in/preparing for The Wider Earth?

For me working on Jemmy’s accent. It’s the first time I’ve had to do one for a job since drama school and unfortunately there’s no one who speaks English with a Yamana accent (the language of Jemmy’s tribe in Chile) on the planet anymore, so it’s very tricky to place. Many people think because he’s from Chile he’d have spoken with a Spanish accent, but Jemmy’s people spoke an indigenous language that had no relation to Spanish at all. I had a lot of accent sessions with a great accent coach to try and basically create an accent from scratch. It took a lot of research from books about Jemmy, trial and error, feeling a bit uncomfortable for a while, and taking a little bit of creative licence too. It was such a unique challenge though, and totally worth it.

The Wider Earth at the Natural History Museum. Photo by Mark Douet. _50A4507
The Wider Earth in rehearsals Photo credit: Mark Douet

What’s your favourite moment in the show?

In the show itself there are many so it’s hard to pick just one, but there’s a lovely moment at the interval where we have a “halftime picnic”. Because the building is so big there’s no time to go back to the dressing rooms so we each take it upon ourselves to bring snacks for everyone and fill up our snack box, then at the interval we sit down have a breather and snack together before we go again for the second half. We all enjoy each other’s company so it has become a bit of a tradition now.

Do you feel any pressure portraying historical figures?

Yes, but I feel like it’s a good kind of pressure – more of a responsibility. Especially for Jemmy. I feel much of South American history is hidden in the history books and they don’t teach anything about it in school, especially in the UK, so I feel responsible for sharing a bit of this history and Jemmy’s story with our audiences. There’s a lot of movement at the moment around equal representation and I feel very proud to be representing a little bit of South America in this show.

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Design credit: www.designevo.com

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