As dinosaurs continue to trample across our collective imaginations, a number of Fringe events take a close peek at 'raptors and their pals
From the Jurassic Park franchise to Dippy's UK tour, dinomania continues to capture the imaginations of both young and old. When children are introduced to these creatures, they create wonder and are an excellent entry point into the world of science. But what is it that kids love about them so much? Perhaps they're an inspiring fantasy, adding a bit of danger without posing any real threat. Or maybe it's because they signify a past that we will never truly know. Whatever it is, the likes of the T-Rex and Stegosaurus have an enduring appeal that amazes and amuses. This makes the species perfect material for children's entertainment, and at the Fringe this year there are plenty of dino-themed shows.
Professor Ben Garrod is a broadcaster, author and evolutionary biologist at the University of East Anglia who has even dug up dinosaur fossils with Sir David Attenborough. He's also the author of six books including the So You Think You Know About Dinosaurs … ?! series. Now, he's starring in his own hit stage show based on that series which he's bringing to the Pleasance Courtyard. 'I'm a professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of East Anglia: sounds fancy doesn't it but it's the coolest job in the world,' says Garrod. 'I study life and how it changes, and I share that knowledge with as many people as possible.'
Dr Ben's show takes audiences on an interactive and educational prehistoric adventure which pits the dinosaur knowledge of adults against that of their (all-knowing) kids. 'When we're growing up we love to learn lots of facts about things such as the speed of fast cars or the size of planets in space,' he notes. 'Dinosaurs are the same, and we love to learn how fast an Allosaurus could run or discover which was the biggest. I also think they inspire us through being so big, fierce and scary.'
Erth's Dinosaur Zoo
During the show, expect to learn about the biggest, deadliest and weirdest types. 'Stegosaurus had tail spikes around one metre long and Ankylosaurus had a tail club which could have destroyed a car,' notes Garrod. 'And they're just the herbivores!' Just don't expect a mention your favourite fictional palaeontologists (think Ross from Friends). 'Real scientists are much better and inspire me every day. The men and women who spend their lives digging up fossils and investigating how these animals and plants lived are much cooler than a TV character.'
Over at Underbelly's McEwan Hall, Australia's internationally touring Erth's Dinosaur Zoo is also setting up camp for the festival. Their show features handmade bespoke dinosaur puppets that are made to scale and allow the audience to participate by getting up close and personal. 'It's essentially a live animal presentation done in the same way in which you'd expect an animal expert to do,' says Scott Wright, artistic director of Erth. 'Except our animals are dinosaurs! They have minds of their own and we can't guarantee that they'll do everything they're asked to do.'
The dinosaurs have been critically informed from the work that Erth has undertaken with museums across the world for the past 20 years. 'Children's experience of dinosaurs is normally just fossils in a museum or animated characters on TV and when they suddenly see these creatures alive on stage it's an overwhelming moment.' Scott believes that part of the appeal of dinosaurs is that they help kids into the adult world. 'Dinosaurs are an entry point for the learning of language, natural science, natural history, animal behaviour; they become a link between adults and children. It's amazing how many children gravitate towards dinosaurs, therefore you have an opportunity to educate them and not talk down to them.'
Erth's Dinosaur Zoo
However, it's not just all fun and games with dinos, there's also an important underlying message rooted in Erth's activist roots. 'Dinosaurs went extinct, so what a great way of being able to have a conversation about conservation, extinction and the protection of species. It doesn't come into the show as a preachy thing, it's just there.' Overall, Scott thinks the show is a fun way to get kids learning. 'It's Australian so it's very laconic and funny. It's also really charming and there are beautiful, unpredictable moments that happen because of the different children that come on stage.'
If So You Think You Know About Dinosaurs … ?! and Erth's Dinosaur Zoo get your dino-juices flowing, there are other dinosaur-themed children's shows to check out. Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs at Pleasance Courtyard is a theatre show with dinosaurs at its heart and a certain Mr T-Rex in the role of the baddie, while Monster School Jurassic! and Science Adventures at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall and Dream Machine at Underbelly's Cowgate also have some stellar dinosaur-related content for young people.
Erth's Dinosaur Zoo, Underbelly, Bristo Square, 3–26 Aug (not 12), 11am, £14.50–£20.50 (£13–£14). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £12.50–£17.50; So You Think You Know About Dinosaurs … ?! with Dr Ben Garrod, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 9–17 Aug, 10.30am, £9–£11 (£8–£10; family ticket £8–£9.50).
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