Review: Dinosaur Zoo (Tour)

Nottingham Playhouse, Sunday 28th August, 2016.


I took my four year old nephew to see this show and he LOVED it. The success of course emanates from the beautiful and gigantic dinosaur puppets which tower above those in the front row. Although set up as a zoo meet-and-greet-the-animals, with lots of interesting information provided, there were of course lots of lovely theatrical elements. What’s more, the fact that children were given the opportunity to meet a selection of the dinosaurs after the show for photographs and petting really was the cherry on the cake- kissing the nose of an adorable baby dinosaur is the stuff of children’s dreams, I’m sure!

On a simple set composed of a few hay bales and inflated tree trunks, the dinosaurs made their entrances one by one. They had their own ‘personalities’ and it was great fun to watch the baby T- Rex being a little terror for his human handler. It was likewise hugely entertaining to watch the dinosaurs interact with each other, the actors and the audience; I was once again enthralled by the beauty of puppetry, willingly losing sight of the fact that these creatures were puppets at all. They were beautifully made (Steve Howarth) with wonderful attention to the details- it’s no wonder that for many of the children around me, the boundaries of make believe and reality were well and truly blurred; ah, the magic of theatre!

There are plenty of laughs in this show and it was crystal clear that the children in the audience were totally won over. Brave souls were invited on stage to meet the various dinosaurs, learning how to ‘properly introduce’ themselves to any animal by presenting the ‘backside’ (teehee) of their hand for copious sniffing. There were also opportunities to ‘feed’ the dinosaurs or coax them out of their apparent shyness- all very charming and nicely complimented by the more mischievous members of the puppet gang, along with some classic slapstick moments. Like any children’s show, this production was heavily reliant on audience participation and this was a key strength; the children loved being able to join the conversation and when they found the dinosaurs flying over their heads or indeed, landing on their hands, their giddy joy was palpable.

It has to be said that although the show was clearly catered to children, there were nods to the grown-ups; but the moments tacked on to cater for the grown-ups fell a little flat at times and I couldn’t help thinking that it was quite enough to enjoy the farcical aspects and the funny interactions without the somewhat forced elements. That said, the clunkiness did ease perceptibly as the performance went on; perhaps the awkward feel of it all at the start was just a case of trying too hard to win over a sleepy Sunday audience? Regardless, this isn’t an issue worth dwelling on as the show has many, many glowing strengths and overall, I was impressed when leaving the auditorium.

The show has a 3+ advisory age, which, in my opinion, could be a little too low for some children. My nephew is a gregarious, fearless force to be reckoned with and he was clearly quite scared of the larger puppets; possibly because the actors do have a lot of fun with the ‘meat eaters’ banter, clearly catering for the older children by adding a little innocent fear-factor to the narrative. I’m not saying the age range is wrong, I’m saying that parents might want to be prepared for the style; it’s not a simple ‘meet and greet’ the dinosaurs, it’s a ‘he’s hungry folks and he eats meat…and what are little children made of?’- great fun for most but possibly a little much for some. My nephew’s fear was relatively fleeting however, and he was nothing but gleeful as he chatted away about it afterwards- I guess it’s down to parental judgement.

The cast were brilliant (Rafe Young, Jeremy Hancock and Nathan Marshall were the fantastic puppeteers) with the children and the commentary for each dinosaur was delivered by the Zoo Keeper (Alexandra Fisher) in a lovely, charismatic Australian accent which definitely made me reminiscent of the daring and wonderful Steve Irwin, adding a sweetly satisfying sense of authenticity and pseudo documentary. The combination of styles proved to be a great strength, keeping the production engaging throughout; there were the explorer/workshop elements, the panto/ audience participation elements and the funny, silly kids’ show elements – a lovely combination for a family show and I’d definitely recommend it.

The production is still touring and tickets can be found here:

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