Proving that you’re never too young to learn about the environment and the issues connected to its preservation, the second day of my COP26 themed week concentrated on the pre-school age group. I’m not sure I’m really fully qualified to comment on and review work for people of such a tender age but I’ve always thought that children’s theatre should be treated with the same seriousness as that for adults so here goes. I’m desperately going to try and avoid using the word “charming” – even if they were.
Dinosaurs And All That Rubbish is based on a picture book by Michael Foreman; given the contemporary message behind the tale I was surprised to discover that it was published back in 1972. It tells the story of man who builds a rocket to achieve a personal goal – you’d expect him to be called Mr Branson or Mr Bezos with a profile like that but here he’s just The Man (sometimes, The Silly Man). His exploits manage to trash the earth in the process and all because he wants something personally and never mind the rest of us. While he is on his travels the slumbering dinosaurs lumber to the rescue turning the earth back into a paradise for all. I can’t really think of a more appropriate time than this week to be heading for this production broken into three manageable chunks of about ten minutes.
The adaptation is courtesy of Roustabout, a Bristol based children’s theatre company who here live up to their strap line of “Silly, stirring, inspiring stuff”. Foreman’s original illustrations have been lovingly recreated by animator Will Monks with director Toby Hulse combining these with a pair of live performers using a green screen process. Shaelee Rooke plays the lead role, while Robin Hemmings writes the songs and strums his guitar a lot; they both play various dinosaurs sometimes in rather fetching onesies. Although I’m a long way from being a member of the target audience of 3 years+ the messages behind the story are important for all to hear and engage with and hopefully learn from- there’s a downloadable set of activities to extend engagement with the show (click here). Let’s face it, anything with dinosaurs in it tends to go down well with kids and at least here they are not ravening monsters but the saviours of the planet. I bet Johnson et al wish it were really that straightforward.
The environmental messages behind Wilf Goes Wild aren’t quite so front and centre and like the first piece focus on the animal kingdom. Young Wilf has lost his pet Marvin the giant African land snail; the suspicion is that he has got into the washing machine and has been flushed away with the waste water. Considering what else has been washed out to sea from our sewage pipes recently that seems like no big deal, but Wilf is distraught. He and his sister Willow decide that an expedition to the bottom of the world, i.e., Antarctica is the only answer. Here they find that Marvin has been kidnapped by the villainous Mr Plumpy for a theme park/zoo he is creating in order to boost his personal level of fame. And in what must surely be a first for screen baddiedom, Mr Plumpy is a narwhal no less.
It’s probably best to think of this short piece (just 15 minutes) as an audio play with animation – there is a BSL version as well. As above there is a downloadable education pack and although the project is aimed at key stage one there should be much of it that appeals to an even younger demographic. Designed as a taster for a full series, it has been created by Sarah Middleton (words) and Josh Sneesby (music) with the voices of Nathan Rigg and Shannon Rewcroft. I was a bit puzzled as to why the brother and sister should have such radically differing accents when they lived in the same house but at least that helped with differentiation. And it’s a bit of a pity that the two main characters couldn’t be given equal billing – at least it’s Dad who is cooking the dinner.