Edinburgh Fringe 2014
“Dinosaur Zoo brings these awesome prehistoric creatures to the stage as you’ve never seen them before – up close and personal! From cute baby dinos to teeth-gnashing giants, observe and interact with extraordinary life-like dinosaurs in this imaginative and hilarious live show”.
Dinosaur Zoo is a BIG production and the Grand was the perfect space to show off some fantastic Dinosaur puppets. This reviewer had heard that some audience feedback from the show had been that it was too scary for younger children so I was interested in seeing the responses, and I took my 10 year old along with me to see how he experienced it.
Our narrator, an experienced and well informed gamekeeper of prehistoric Dinosaurs, was a quirky and energetic presence who kept a humorous warm banter going throughout, helping to keep a light-hearted but also fairly realistic feel to the scene as she brought these creatures to life with fantastically no nonsense charm. Her introduction was neatly and cheekily concluded with the slightly ominous comment:
“By the end of this show , some of you will be crying…it’s true” and although she did reassure the younger members of the audience that “everything you see on stage is a puppet…but thanks to TV and your short attention spans you’ll forget everything I just said about……….now.”
There were lots of chances for kids to get involved and this was well integrated and safely managed. We learnt some brilliant facts about Dinosaurs and about ones from different parts of the world. These facts were nicely related back to living animals today with useful and practical tips for children – a really nice and meaningful touch. The children were also encouraged to repeat the names of the dinosaurs, which was again a really lovely learning experience.
The narrator‘s skill in committing fully to the illusion together with the puppeteer’s timing and energy is what actually made this production so excellent as they didn’t fall back on complicated special effects, they used theatrical skills to engage with the dinosaurs making this prehistoric world feel very real. It was their performance, much more than the puppets themselves, that made it feel so real and exciting and always on the edge of scary.
From my observations the children were in such an interesting place of knowing none of it was real, a lot of the puppetry was quite transparent, but they were still jumping and backing away from the various Dinosaurs and yes, there were a few tears. No one as far as I know left though and actually it wasn’t a show designed to terrify, there were baby dinosaurs and herbivores and they were generally presented as harmless but they were playful and unpredictable at times and this was done very subtly, which again added realism to the piece. The set was perfectly imagined to create a sense of size and possibility, which added to the tension and the lighting and recordings worked very effectively to bring all the elements together.
My 10 year old absolutely loved it, he wanted it to go on longer and he was delighted to have the opportunity to meet a couple of the dinosaurs outside afterwards. His only criticism was that he thought it was weird when one of the Dads was invited onto the stage to show off his muscles… Other than that he had a great time and it was lovely that at his age he was able to suspend disbelief through excellent puppetry and a truly skillful and committed performance from the whole cast.