Dinosaur Park comes from the world of Fringe Festivals and is currently enjoying a season at the St James Theatre Studio space. The show won awards at last year’s Vault festival and went on to high acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe. One punter described the show as ‘a geek fest wrapped up in love. Awesome!’
To say that the story of this play is surprising is an understatement, especially if you are expecting merely a spoof of the film Jurassic Park. In the audience at this performance there was a mix of ages, slightly more men than women and a few obvious fans of the movie that is the centre of this play. When asked what they were expecting the answer was ‘dinosaurs’. In this space they would be hard to deliver but there were indeed dinosaurs thanks to the powerful performances of the cast of three.
The lively ensemble is first and foremost a family of father, daughter and son. They have gathered their community at the local hall to screen the original movie, a family favourite, as a first anniversary memorial tribute to the mother. The cast quickly and firmly establish their characters and relationships and when things start to go awry with their plans for the evening Noah, the son, superbly played by Simon Maeder, is not prepared to abandon the tribute to his deceased mother and begins to re-enact the film from the opening titles.
From this point on the play oscillates between scenes of the family drama with the cast smoothly morphing into re-enactments of the movie, playing all the roles including dinosaurs. The aforementioned movie fans were extremely switched on with the movie scenes and laughed loudly as the talented cast clearly portrayed well-loved scenes and characters. In this respect it would be helpful to have some knowledge of the movie to enhance appreciation, however even without a detailed background from the film enjoyment is still possible.
Being a festival production there is little set, rather a few props on the wall and stage with lighting and sound building the scenes. There is a wonderful blend of acting skills with the lighting and sound design that creates the many and varied situations. Clever use of occasional amplified voices varies the aural palette and the original soundtrack is used to great effect. The best use of a prop goes to the backpack as a dinosaur head. Very clever!
Simon Maeder is the stand out amongst the small cast, his character Noah driving the action throughout. A highlight moment of the play is his physicality as the young boy mourning his mother. His face was a picture of a woebegone and lost little boy. Maeder has ample opportunity to display the depth of his skills as he moves, speaks and sings his way through a myriad of characters with ease.
The role of the daughter, Jade is less sympathetic to the audience. Jade is of the age, exacerbated by family circumstances, of the surly and unco-operative. However Jade is finely played by Maria Askew showing the depth of the character in the glimpses Jade allows into the love that she has for her mother and the pain of loss. Askew also shines with the versatility of her many characters.
The last of the family trio is the father, Terry, a divorced father working hard at maintaining a relationship with his children. The restrictions that a part-time parent has are further complicated by having to step into the single parent role. Terry often dissolves into gibberish when faced with a parental conundrum and simply and humorously repeats Jade’s name in an effort to establish something, anything, with his uncommunicating daughter. The role is convincingly played by Frode Gjerlow who also treats all his other roles in this play with the same sincerity.
It is the cohesiveness of this ensemble that together creates the warmth and love that wraps this story around a playful and very clever adaptation of Jurassic Park.
The flow of the play is interrupted by an unnecessary interval. In a production of one hour and twenty minutes the intrusion of a twenty minute interval is spurious. The play would have been much more effective without the break. This is however a small quibble for what is in fact a very deserving play.