Dinosaur World at the New Theatre takes puppetry to a new level, offering an exciting and eye-opening trip to a far away island populated by a set of marvellous creatures who, it turns out, survived the mass extinction of some sixty-five million years ago. Island inhabitant / palaeontologist / dinosaur shepherd Miranda (Danielle Stag) invited an audience of excited children and adults to meet a range of dinosaurs, both cute and scary, in this clever and imaginative show.
The action in Dinosaur World is quite pared down. Stag cheerfully welcomed the audience, gave a relatively unnecessary back story with the aid of a model boat to explain her presence on the island, then brought in a range of dinosaur friends including a Triceratops, a Giraffatitan and a Tyrannosaurus Rex, explaining their habits and care with engaging humour and a good dose of audience participation. There's no need for more, really; the show doesn't require much in the way of window dressing - they have ruddy great (and small) dinosaurs. The important stuff, the artistry that must have gone into producing the animals and the skills of the puppeteers who do their best to make themselves invisible, is all beneath the surface. The dinosaurs themselves are extremely impressive and the puppetry is very cleverly done, with the puppeteers dressed in dark, functional clothing, posing as keepers when necessary, but generally just allowing themselves to go unnoticed beside their far more absorbing charges. The movements and sounds made by the dinosaurs are convincing and characterful, and there's a deal of gentle comedy in the way they're made to interact with the humans.
My four-year-old daughter is keen on dinosaurs but hasn't even scratched the surface of preschool prehistory knowledge, in comparison to some of the infant-savants in the audience. The question 'What sort of dinosaur do you think this is?' elicited a chorus of suggestions half of which neither of us had ever heard of, while in response to 'What do you think it likes to eat?' mine was the only child who gamely shouted out 'Pears!'. Good dinosaur knowledge fortunately wasn't a prerequisite for enjoying the show, which devoted itself to showing the - erm - human side of dinosaurs. A puppy-like little T-Rex, a ready-to-hatch egg and a baby Triceratops made the animals seem friendly and accessible, and happily a bit of drama was added by the arrival of the T-Rex's bigger brother, complete with moody lighting, tension-building music and lots of roaring.
I think the only problem is that these wonderful puppets would appear to far, far greater advantage in a more intimate setting. It is of course a measure of the show's popularity that they can hold their own in a venue like the New Theatre, and while I'd like to see them cram the mighty T-Rex into the Holywell Music Room it probably wouldn't be a good idea. But, while they have noted this problem and try to make up for it by inviting children on stage and offering a 'meet and greet' with the smaller dinosaurs after the show, there are so many people queuing for a stroke that you're whisked through in a matter of seconds, like tourists catching a glimpse of the Crown Jewels before being swept past by the throng.
This is probably something that just has to be accepted as part of an informative, exciting, and understandable popular show, so I'd recommend trying to catch one of the more ad-hoc dinosaur appearances, which sometimes take place at venues like the Natural History Museum, as well as a trip to the main event.