Theatre has never been so terrifying thanks to the Dinosaur Zoo, as Katherine MacAlister discovers

A cross between Jurassic Park, War Horse and The Muppets, Dinosaur Zoo has now left the West End and is en route to Oxford, thanks to dinosaur fanatic Scott Wright. He uses ingenious puppetry to bring dinosaurs to life on stage in this interactive and imaginative live show coming to the New Theatre, aimed at children aged three and above and their families, with some amazing results.

So how does director Scott do that? “We had been custom making life-like dinosaur puppets for museums around the world and as a result had developed some pretty cool ways of presenting them within a museum context before we started to realise that we were onto something quite unique so began doing small outdoor street shows at festivals around Australia and from there the idea snow-balled into the show that it is today,” he says.

Since then Dinosaur Zoo has gone from strength to strength and toured all over the world from the halls of the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, to Dublin, New York, Bahrain… and the West End.

So why does Scott think Dinosaur Zoo has proved so popular? “It’s unique, there’s nothing like it in the world and it has a fun, edgy charm to it. “Most people’s experiences of dinosaurs are based on inanimate objects in museums or animated creatures in film or television, so by bringing our dinosaurs onto the stage we come one step closer, realising everybody’s dream of having these awesome creatures alive and well in our modern world.”

Yes you read that right, because intrepid audience members brave enough to get up close and personal with the dinosaurs are brought on stage to assist the zookeeper in his/her daily tasks. Those unable to join the dinosaurs on stage have the opportunity to meet them at the official ‘meet and greet’, at the end of each show.

“That’s actually my favourite part because it’s unrehearsed,” Scott says. “People’s reactions are very real and unpredictable so they make for some wonderful moments when folks have a chance to pat the creatures or take a photo.”

What also excites Scott is introducing audiences to a range of new creatures from cute baby dinos to teeth-gnashing giants, including a carnivorous theropod known as the Australovenator based on the most complete meat-eating dinosaur skeleton found in Australia.

Australia is of course where Scott’s dinosaur obsession all began: “When I was a kid there was a lot less known about dinosaurs. I remember making a papier mache dinosaur with my dad and grandpa which I dragged around with me from one house to the next (we moved a lot when I was younger) and it slowly fell apart, but not without a tonne of new paint and repairs,” he recalls.

And Sydney is where Erth, Scott’s visual and physical theatre company, is based: “Our workshop is there too and is the place we all love spending time in because on a daily basis new creatures come to life. “We like to keep the show fresh though by building new dinosaurs all the time and introducing them regularly so that we keep up to date with recent discoveries.”

What is the aim of the show then? “To have fun and to be honest. Dinosaurs are awesome but they can also be big and scary, every kid knows that. “We like delivering the facts so while the show does have some great educational overtones, it is also funny and has a lovely endearing nature to it.

“I am truly grateful that a childhood dream has become a lifelong career.”

Dinosaur Zoo comes to Oxford’s New Theatre from today until Saturday.
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