First Night: Walking with Dinosaurs SECC, Glasgow
A show to sink your teeth into
Thursday 02 July 2009
Halfway through the show our nominal guide to this tour of pre-history's most exciting events, Huxley the palaeontologist (he had to be, really, for dinosaurs aren't as skilled at narration as they are at eating and evolving) welcomes us to the Jurassic era.
"This era was very good for the dinosaurs," he waxes in his best Indiana Jones get-up, "and Sir Stephen Spielberg." And, let's be honest, to everyone who's ever made a buck out of the universal fascination with big reptiles and their dramatic potential, the makers of both versions of Walking With Dinosaurs.
What the BBC originally hit upon with their internationally hugely successful CGI documentary was that not only are dinosaurs exciting, they're educational too. The producers of this new arena show based on the original series have also been faithful to this aspect, working in facts about natural history, geology and evolution.
Over two halves of 40 minutes each, Huxley guides us through three key eras (Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous) and the monsters which dominated in each.
The set is in-the-round, with the central stage holding an artificial outcrop of rock in the middle and a large prop entrance disguised by an even bigger jawful of fangs and a video projection screen/doorway. Huxley, alternately played Rob Carroll and Dominic Rickhards (the latter was in action on opening night), dance among the outcrops and the dinosaurs when they appear, a good part of his job just to gaze at the beasts in awe while the audience get a good look. These part-animatronic, part-puppet creations are the money shot, and they're right on it.
Steadily we are introduced to the Liliensternus and Plateosaurus, the latter defending its eggs from the predatory former. Even these less interesting species really are incredible, their skin stretching and loosening in realistic wrinkles, their eyes flickering, heads twitching and mouths unlocking in an uncanny semblance of life. Adults might notice the camouflaged dollies and the human legs under the smaller models' kicking hind limbs: kids really won't care.
We scroll through the proud-plated Stegosaurus "mountain of dinosaur", two Brachiosaurus' with their stretched necks craning up into the gantries, the pterosaur Ornithocheirus conducting an amazing flight. Forests burn, plants bloom and Utahraptors, an Ankylosaurus and a Torosaurus give way to the unavoidable grand finale: the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and its infant.
Even for adults, this roaring beast is frighteningly effective, but also strangely amusing in its interplay with its mewling pup. When the Cretaceous era-ending meteor inevitably hits in a burst of sound and light we are sad to leave them – and this highly impressive show – behind.
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