March 03, 2020

Daily Review – Adelaide Fringe

Filed under: 2020,Archive,Fringe

Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo
Elder Hall. University of Adelaide. RCC
February 29. Until March 12.

In the extensive kids program in the Adelaide Fringe there is even something for the junior palaeontologist. And no better than the gee-whiz large scale puppetry of Erth-Visual and Physical studio to bring the ancient past vividly back before us. Erth certainly has nothing to show more fair than its Dinosaur Zoo travelling show (written and directed by Scott Wright) returning to the RCC program to amaze a new batch of young fans of very scary big critters.

The stage of Adelaide Uni’s imposingly Victorian Elder Hall could be ready for a meeting of a learned society. Instead the seats are packed with young families –parents and children mostly pre-school to five or so. The sides of the stage are decorated with inflatable plants rather resembling giant asparagus. Our bearded guide to the zoo, introduced only as Miles, comes out in familiar wildlife show presenter garb – green polo shirt, khaki shorts and Blundstones.

His spiel is a sometimes uneasy mix of reassurance to the kids, useful explanatory commentary and zany asides to the parents. But the main thing is that the show is informative. I suspect that the audience I was in was a bit young for the event but there were a few eight to ten year olds who were Mastermind standard in their dinosaur knowledge and Miles did his best to field information from them.

So full marks to the boy who correctly identifies 65 million as the number of years ago that dinosaurs, along with most of the planet, went extinct in about ten days from a catastrophic firestorm caused by a massive asteroid colliding with Earth in the vicinity of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula.

Then to get things moving, Cat, Mick and Tom, three zoo keeper/handlers/ puppeteers appear, wrangling some little T–Rex babies, wriggling and gnashing and looking fascinatingly believable. Willing volunteers are recruited from the audience and, watching out for fingers, the children are suddenly in an animated puppet petting zoo.

The creatures arrive in quick succession. The audience is buzz- bombed by Meganeura – gigantic dragon flies with wingspans up to 90 cms. Adding some further astounding data, Miles describes scorpions as big as dogs, and spiders the size of cats. We are told about unique Australian discoveries such as those made by Tom Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich at Dinosaur Cove in the Otway Ranges. An entirely new species was named Leaellynasaurus – after their young daughter.

Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo unveils raptors, a full grown Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a gigantic herbivorous Brontosaurus looms over the side of the stage. The puppets are immense and impressive, the artwork and detail are astonishing. The children are as animated as the creatures and, up on stage, assist in emergency dinosaur tooth removal and other useful duties.

It may be a long hour for some, but it is full of things to know and think about. That also goes for reviewers and parents. What I liked most is that Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo is about science, especially Australian science, and provides insight into what field research and painstaking empirical application have accomplished, and continue to do. No one here is talking about geological time beginning 6,000 years ago, or science being an optional belief.

I’m just sorry there weren’t more eight to ten (and older) dinosaur connoisseurs gathered there in Elder Hall to feast on the facts.

FOUR Stars

Head First Acrobatics
Gluttony, Rymill Park
February 23. Until March 15.

Prehysterical is well-named. Unlike Erth and the dinosaurs, this physical farce for little ones has some excellent moves, acrobatics and pratfalls, but a storyline and incidental slapstick business that verge on woeful.

The show is built around three cave people. Based on more recent paleontology, it is almost slanderous to call them Neanderthals. The material is a million miles from the wit of cartoon strips of Johnny Hart’s BC, Alley Oop or The Flintstones. But Erg, Grunt and Ow (I think I’ve got the names right) are there to wave their cudgels and have fun with the audience – particularly the appreciative kids sitting down in the front rows.

The performers in animal skin outfits display some quality backflips, double handstands and other impressive turns. Events are propelled by a nicely-curated non-stop jungle stomp music soundtrack. A length of blue fabric is unfurled to make a river and much comedy is had trying to swing across. The acrobatics get more elaborate with head-to-headstands. A cudgel and spear fight turns mockingly into a slow-motion opera to the theme from Lakme.

There are plenty of noises off. Lions and tigers roar through the tannoys as the performers labour to invent fire. They learn tolerance and co-operation, of course, and in refreshingly positive gender bias, it is always Erg the female pioneer who is first to make the connection or solve the problem. She also excels on the cloudswing and the virtuoso hoop spinning.

Prehysterical kept the key stakeholders very happy. My almost-five year old grandson was well pleased with the physical stunts and most of the slapstick. But the show could still use some tweaking. The acrobatics are Head First terrific but the concept sometimes comes a tired second.

THREE stars

Architects of Air
Barr Smith Lawns, University of Adelaide. RCC
February 29. Until March 15.

A luminarium is an inflatable sculpture of air and light. It is also one you can take off your shoes and socks and walk through, explore, sit around and wonder at. It has been described as “somewhere between a womb and a cathedral.” Cathedral works best for me because there is much upward gazing and contemplation and the colour and designs are vivid and amazing in their bold simplicity. It is as though someone has tried to emulate the Blue Mosque in Istanbul in PVC.

Devised and built in Nottingham, England, by founder and designer Alan Parkinson, the Architects of Air company has been making and developing pneumatic structures since 1992. More than three million people have since passed through their inflatable portals in more than 40 countries.

Parkinson says he wants “to share my sense of wonder at the phenomenon of light.” The thin membrane PVC (about the thickness of a T-shirt, they say) is custom-made for the company and the structures last about 300 days of exhibition time, spread over four years before they are replaced and recycled. Constantly on the move and in demand internationally, the structures have to be portable, well drained, stable in windy conditions and allow wheelchair access.

We are briefed before entering the inner sanctum of the luminariam. Children are to stay close to their parents, no running and banging into the walls, no loud noises. In other words, this is not a Bouncy Castle. Once inside these reminders seem self-evident. The experience is both soothing and illuminating. The colours are intense – rich greens and blues which, when you turn a corner, unexpectedly bleed into scarlet red.

People move around calmly and respectfully. We are surrounded by sparse and soothing Eighties Eno-style ambient electronica. It all fits together. There are numerous chambers and connecting corridors but it is a benign maze. Some sit and relax, surveying the abstract hard-edge Gothic and Islamic motifs, drenched in the colours of psychedelia. From another angle we can see the silhouettes of the trees outside etched on the canopy.

Twenty minutes is the usual staying time and, when I left, the waiting queue ran almost up to the Barr Smith library. Luminariam is well worth the watching – and the wait.

FOUR stars.

Daily Review, March 4, 2020.

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