'Dinosaur Petting Zoo' – Erth
Playing as part of the Southbank Centre’s Imagine Children’s Festival, ‘Dinosaur Petting Zoo’ offers young audiences the chance to interact with some magnificent dinosaur puppets. The production is an excuse to bring some extinct creatures back to life and to explain the palaeontological data associated with each through the playful and engaging vehicle of puppetry.
The puppets are beautifully crafted and well manipulated, sometimes from the inside as costume puppets, and sometimes externally either as glove puppets or with rods. Particularly engaging are the baby dinosaurs. Their moving eyelids give them such realistic cuteness that one can hardly resist the urge to pet them. The scary costume puppet of the 'Australovenator Wintonensis' is also engaging – the children are invited to feed, cuddle and run away from it when it gets angry.
However, only five puppets are presented in all, introduced one by one after the motto “do you want to see another dinosaur?” which makes the experience rather repetitive, even for the children. There is no narrative, plot or climax, and no sense of any theatrical structure other than a repeated formula of audience interaction, consisting of inviting members of the audience onto the stage to joke with or laugh at.
These formulas of interaction might work in the round but not in the confined space of a conventional theatre, especially in the absence of a storyline to bring them together. It’s not a theatre piece as much as an educational presentation, probably very effective in a museum setting but not as successful in a conventional theatrical space like the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Having said all this, ‘Dinosaur Petting Zoo’ leaves an imprint on the audience. The illusion is created and maintained thanks to the craft behind the puppets and the close relationship allowed between puppets and audience. It’s worth seeing for the children, if only to pet the baby dinosaurs!
'Dinosaur Petting Zoo'
Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre