With fabulous puppetry, playful presentation, and the chance to get very hands-on with everyone’s favourite extinct creatures, Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo is a winning combination of entertainment and education which appeals as much to adults as to the under-eights who made up the bulk of our audience.
The hour-long show is presented as a Steve Irwin style Australian ‘live animal display’, with animals replaced by dinosaurs. Lindsey Chaplin, who takes on the presenter role, holds the piece together perfectly with presence, charm, and lots of Aussie wisecracking. Her banter is partly aimed at the kids, but also unashamedly partly directed at keeping the adults in the audience amused. Be warned that the ‘danger zone’ seats at the front are also known as the ‘buffet section’.
The stars of the piece, of course, are the dinos themselves, brought to exquisite life by puppeteers Steve Peck and Hal Silvester. The King’s auditorium was a large space to present to, with some audience at a distance in the upper circle, but the size of most of the puppets, and the show’s continuous audience interaction, went a long way to overcoming these difficulties. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to get up on stage with the dinosaurs – having the puppets re-appear after the show on the stage and in the foyer, so that everybody gets a chance to meet them up close, is a particularly nice touch.
The audience are reminded at the beginning of the show that the dinosaurs are not real, but it’s a tribute to the skill of the performers and the quality of the puppets that the children respond to them absolutely as if they were living creatures (there were also a fair few parents queuing up to stroke the dinosaurs after the show). This became overwhelming for a couple of the children who volunteered to go on stage, and there were some tears from the youngest children in the audience when the scarier dinosaurs appeared. The performers, in particular Lindsey Chaplin, managed these occasions well, however, and the company achieves a good balance between maintaining a sense of security, and giving its younger audience members a safe ‘thrill’.
A colourful programme/poster filled with activities, and the friendly attentiveness of the King’s Theatre staff, further contributed to making this an experience that my ten year old really relished. He loved the show and immediately declared that he wanted to go again. This will delight children (and grown-ups) who loved the Walking with Dinosaurs show which toured earlier this year, and while the dinosaurs may be smaller scale in Dinosaur Zoo, this show has the advantage of allowing its audience actually to touch and become familiar with its featured creatures. Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo is touring various venues in the UK in 2013 and into 2014.