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The Colour of Dinosaurs review – fascinating family show with raptor-ous revelations
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The Colour of Dinosaurs review – fascinating family show with raptor-ous revelations

Adaptations are a safe bet in children’s theatre: turn a much-loved picture book into a stage show and you’re guaranteed a head start in ticket sales. Hats off to Polka theatre (and Bristol Old Vic where this production originated) for seeking inspiration instead from a 2008 scientific paper by Yale University’s department of geology and geophysics. One of its co-authors, Danish palaeontologist Jakob Vinther, even appears alongside a five-strong band in this lively hour of gig-theatre for children aged four to 12.

Vinther’s research team found melanin in fossilised dinosaur feathers which resulted in a landmark reconstruction of the colour patterns in feathered dinosaurs. The show revisits that discovery, which is explained in a fun and accessible style for kids and, ahem, easily-baffled-by-science parents. That’s how 10-year-old Hilda and I find ourselves throwing around big cuddly “meatballs” and squishy “sausages”, representing the shape of reddish and black melanosomes respectively.

It helps that Hilda loves dinosaurs and fossils. Mary Anning is one of her heroes so she is immediately intrigued by the long-haired, laid-back Vinther who styles himself as a “dinosaur detective” and has a few dino dance moves to share with the young crowd. He devised the show alongside performers Dom Coyote (who directs), composer Lloyd Coleman, Victoria Oruwari, Harry Miller and Roxana Vilk, who sing and play instruments. When Vinther is brought on stage, you sense the authority of scientific knowledge: an uncommon feeling in theatre which reminded me of the gripping 2071 at the Royal Court, performed by Chris Rapley, a professor of climate science.

Jakob Vinther in The Colour of Dinosaurs.View image in fullscreen

With writing by Malaika Kegode, this show has enough layers to work for the younger and older children in the audience. Amy Pitt and Saskia Tomlinson’s design (with lighting by Chris Swain) is bold and engaging with neon dino silhouettes and projections that appear in disc-shaped windows. There are roars of delight at the chaos caused when Vilk – wearing an ingenious dinosaur costume – races around the auditorium in search of lunch; but there are also plenty of reflective moments when the performers share personal stories about what makes them unique. The lasting impression is of each individual’s identity as well as their warm group dynamic – I haven’t felt such a sense of community in a family show for some time.

The real star is a Psittacosaurus who inspires a catchy syncopated song (the score borrows from funk, reggae, scat and pop influences) and makes a late appearance, to Hilda’s delight. She says she doesn’t mind that there isn’t the usual sort of story to follow, enjoys the interactivity (though definitely does not want to go up on stage) and loves the bright design. There is a wondrous sequence in which Oruwari, a soprano who has experienced synaesthesia since losing her sight in childhood, attributes colours to voices of children from the audience.

“I didn’t know that about you,” runs one catchy song from the show. “But now I know, please tell me more.” It sums up a fascinating show: Hilda and I leave humming, with brains buzzing.

Source: theguardian.com