Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Walking with dinosaurs

I know this site is not exactly the place to read up-to-the-minute theatre reviews. But I just have to stop everything to recommend to you the crowd-pleasing spectacle, Walking with Dinosaurs.

So what if this performance toured the UK years ago, and millions of people around the world already went? You might be one of the sixteen people still undecided! Then of course you must go and see it.

If you're in Hong Kong for the Arena, buy the cheapest seats you can (unless of course you have the corporate 500 dollar seats for free).

As a hint, when you get there, you can choose your spot. This is clearly local custom. We sat with about one hundred other people in Hobo Seats Block X. Until the lights dimmed, that is. Then all the sensible Chinese people did the pragmatic thing, which was to jump up en masse and move to Posh Seats Block B. Foolishly, I thought the usher who ran at the crowd was making a pathetic attempt to thwart the exodus. Nonsense. She was simply expediting stragglers to the $300 seats caught in the torch beam. Dull witted British dopes like us just sat there, stupidly watching, bound by I don't know what to stay in the seats we paid for. I console myself. The views at this well-designed show space are fine, really, even for cheapskates like us.

Wherever you are, the dinos in this show are huge. You cannot miss them. Unless you are looking at the T Rex with fingers over your eyes, which I totally deny. And I deny as well that there remain some moments I have not seen on Jurassic Park, even though the kids have played the film maybe two thousand times while someone shouts out teacher words like Dramatic Tension from behind the sofa.

As you can guess, Walking with Dinosaurs is a tempest of love triangles, moral conflict, psychological drama and social criticism.

Only joking! It has a lot of dinosaurs, and they're walking about.

But you still have to go. Even though you know exactly what's coming, the people in charge of this spectacle contrive to make the predictable surprising. In fact, they do it so well, it becomes ridiculously exciting. You might have to do a bit of childish squealing! So I am told. Especially if you have been looking forward to it all day, as if you are aged five. Something else which I totally deny. But really, it's true! Even the vegetation is amazing! It comes alive before your very eyes!

Ahem. It's clear that the people who created this slick stagecraft are professionals at the genre. The lighting is excellent, the set well-thought out, and the dinos set against each other in great coordination and display.

But you can't look for metaphors or subtleties or dramatic sub plots. If you take the kids along, you probably can't expect to have much of a discussion about the role of spectacle in society in your after-show dinner either. You can, however, jump up and down with excitement and make noises like little squeaky gasps when the music kabooms, the set moves and the big dinos rumble on stage. Nudging your neighbour in excitement and pointing and squealing 'Look! I can see a dinosaur!' is all permissible. I swear I did not do any of it. Anyway, here in Hong Kong, no one will mind. From what I have experienced, Chinese style is to chat, get up and make tea, wander about and generally enjoy themselves. So they cover up the childish squealing and pointing going on from seat Hobo 32 Block X.

On stage you benefit from a narrator who gives scale and human movement to contrast the brilliant dinos. A professional and capable delivery leads us through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Given the steady flow of narrated primary-school factoids on geology, geography and paleontology, you can feel extra smug if you are a British expat seeing this overseas, because you can lord it over everyone simply by coming from the land of the BBC. (Even though we all know they are a profit-driven global enterprise no different from the evil corporate financiers bent on world domination.)

But the dinosaurs! They are fantastic. They blink, which is brilliant. They also roar, fart, sway, run about, gracelessly lumber, then go at each other with tail clubs and horns. The traditional nature narrative is in there (look at the sweet baby - now it is dinner), but it is all without bloodshed, obviously, because some of us with the disposition of a five-year old would pass out.

But the real stars of this show are the huge numbers of people who have brought their problem-solving and practical skills in design and engineering to animatronics. The hydraulics required to create this lot include several thousand metres of cabling. But the skin I swear is real. They did not make it out of paint and latex. They did not use enough fabric to cover the Sydney Opera House ten times over. That is impossible. They must have found some real preserved dinosaur skin and draped it over dino bones.

Each large dino is animated in two methods. The first is by someone who may have the best job in the world, to actually drive the dino via an elongated vehicle disguised as a rock. If I had any confidence that my strategy would work, I would lie down on the floor and squeal till I went blue and was sick if only I could have a go in that little car. I'm sure I heard Squirrel say that.

The second means of animation is by the voodoo puppeteers. These people sit in high-tech command and control stations with exciting buttons and knobs and dials and light up screens. They manipulate heads, tails, mouth parts, and make roaring sounds. And I would just like to say, it is so totally not fair that ordinary members of the public are not allowed to have a go, even ones who hang around the stage pleading and looking sad after the event has long finished and they are poked at with a stick held by a frowning security guard.

So yes, if Walking with Dinosaurs comes near you, of course you must go. If you feel compelled to take a child along, grab the neighbour's. Then tell them in a serious voice, they're about to go and watch some very real dinosaurs, just pretending to be puppets.


Kitty said...

How quaint to relocate to the unoccupied expensive seats once the performance begins ... I have been in a half empty theatre many times, and just remained in my seat.

I hope you, dear Grit, and your family and loved ones, all enjoy the most wonderful 2011. :) x

MadameSmokinGun said...


Sam said...

Happy New Year! Have a good 2011.

I don't think there's anything wrong with having two years in a row where you manage to survive without major calamaties! Enjoy the sunlight as you pause for breath, then carry on as before :-)

Dreamingaloudnet said...

It was in Dublin last year - a 3 hour drive from us, and I was tempted as I have a 5 y/o who LOVES dinos, but thought it seemed pricey to see a couple of animatronix lamely wiggling.

Thanks for the write up, will check it out when it journeys back this way - hope he won't be too grown up then!