Q: What do you call a terrible, horrible, unpleasant dinosaur?
A: A thesaurus. Dinosaurs bring out the child in me. I have lost count of the number of times I have been thrilled by the animatronic dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum. And I love movie dinosaurs, from the original King Kong through Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion classics right up to the CGI megabeasts of the Jurassic Park movies.
So it was with no little excitement that I took my seat in the O2, dodging clouds of candyfloss, for this show inspired by BBC series Walking With Dinosaurs. The opening is a bit of a letdown. I like Michaela Strachan but her jolly paleontologist schtick is lame.
Matters improve when eggs crack open to reveal baby dinosaurs but we are not here for cute puppies. The first “real” dinosaur comes on, a liliensternus, and it is too obviously a man in a dinosuit – you can see his legs pumping beneath the costume.
Then a huge roar heralds the arrival of an enormous plateosaurus. Dwarfing the paleontologist he rolls around the arena until chasing off his rival. And so it continues. Each entrance brings on a bigger creature.
The young brachiosaurus, with its long giraffe neck, is joined by mama brachiosaurus who rescues her offspring from another predator. Then the real action starts. Utahraptors rip open a dino carcass and start dining on the entrails.
Michaela looks scared and hides behind a rock. Flowers bloom like balloons (which is what they are) as a giant video screen depicts the changing prehistoric landscape, skipping across millions of years. Huge bruisers like ankylosaurus come galumphing on, heavy-duty tails swinging like massive clubs.
Horns, spikes and armoured plates make the torosaurus look like a cross between a medieval knight and a King’s Road punk. Their eyes rake the audience as they roar and roll around the arena, tails whistling perilously close to the front rows.
The wow factor kicks in with the arrival of tyrannosaurus rex – the one we have been waiting for. It is big, it is loud and it is very scary. When it homes in on Michaela the children scream.
Run, Michaela, run! A small child next to me ducks down when T-Rex gets too close. He looks up at me, eyes wide, and whispers: “Doyouthinkhesaurus?
THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE
Park Theatre, until September 15.
Tickets: 020 7870 6876
Originally written for Jane Horrocks in 1992, Jim Cartwright’s play looks more fragile with every passing decade. Little Voice, or LV, is a shy, repressed young girl who learns to impersonate the great pop divas from her dead father’s record collection.
Her appalling, foul-mouthed mother Mari (Sally George) lives each day from hangover to hangover, man to man, oblivious to her daughter’s vocal gifts. But when seedy music promoter Ray Say (Kevin McMonagle) hears LV singing he grasps the chance to exploit her at the local working men’s club.
The inaugural production from Anita Dobson’s new theatre company Land Of Green Ginger has the USP of casting a real-life mother and daughter in the lead roles for the first time.
Mari is a magnificent wreck of a woman, staggering around in heels and tight skirts or tattered lingerie while insulting neighbour Sadie (Jamie-Rose Monk) or berating her daughter for being too much like her father.
Rafaella Hutchinson as LV seems like a rabbit caught in headlights until she lets rip in the second half. She slips in and out of Marilyn Monroe’s breathy delivery, Shirley Bassey’s powerful wallop and Cher’s deep nasal whine even though her own singing outclasses her imitations.
Director Tom Latter lays on the sleaze with a trowel and the stage effects of the climactic fire are impressive. But a putative romance between LV and equally shy Billy (Linford Johnson) untethers the play from reality as the characters and events slide into metaphorical melodrama.
And the play’s preoccupation with society’s lowest rungs is starting to appear patronising rather than enlightening. Wallowing in squalor, Cartwright offers little redemption for his characters. A well-performed but rather dispiriting evening.