Les Petits Theatre Company return to the high seas after their successful and award-winning Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs rollicked the rigging and spliced the mainbrace! The Magic Cutlass, the sequel premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016 and is the sequel based on the award-winning book by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto.
‘It’s all aboard, me hearties, for a real-life pirate adventure!’
The stage is dressed for a school production of The Pirate Dinosaurs using suitably crafted props and larger set pieces. ‘St Barnabas School’s School Play’ is projected on a cloth screen destined for future service for shadow puppetry. All the pieces on stage transform and it as a clever design by Zoe Squire.
The premise of the story is sound: ‘When Flinn, Pearl and Tom are in the middle of their school play their old nemesis, Mr T the T-Rex, appears and kidnaps the children forcing them to hunt for the secretive Magic Cutlass – a sword that grants the holder any wish. The children are whisked away for another fantastic adventure to a world of devious dinosaurs, deep sea dangers and smelly sausages. It’s all aboard, me hearties, for a real-life pirate adventure!’
The issues are indistinct advances in the story from the moments of the kidnap onwards. As the children are kidnapped and exit the stage they re-enter as the Pirate Dinosaurs. They are first shadow puppets then become larger puppets worn and operated by the cast on stage. For the rest of the play the versatile cast are back and forth between the school children and the Pirate Dinosaurs characters. The changes are not defined enough to establish the multiple roles despite the hardworking cast of four.
Sullivan Brown opens the play as Miss Pie and introduces cast. It is as Mr T the T-Rex that Brown garners the giggles of the young audience. The audience is told that they are actually seeing a dress rehearsal, seemingly to account for the false start.
There is music throughout the show with catchy tunes and simple choreography. Performed to backing tracks the music is catchy and generally supports the story. It was unfortunate that sound let down the song from Mr T. the T-Rex as there was a malfunction and his singing was inaudible. The backing singers were louder. It promised to be a hit as the character is larger than life.
Captain Flynn is played by James Keningale and has a delicious moment when his 10 year old toughie cries for his mummy. The subsequent realisation that his mates think he did it on purpose to save the day is gold.
Emily Essery is the only girl in the play and her energy and enthusiasm ensure that her characters, Pearl and Tracy the Triceratops, are favourites with the audience. Essery shows fine comedic timing and strong vocals. Rounding out the cast is Tom Syms who plays a quieter young boy, Tom who plays in the shadows of his two school friends and a contrasting Pirate Dinosaur, Stephen the Stegosaurus.
Amidst the frivolity and mayhem there are quieter scenes redolent with scary music and mood lighting enough to set at least one toddler crying and heading out the door. A standout scene was the underwater moments with extra puppets like the colourful jellyfish, a cheeky crab and a school of fish. This scene was a successful combination of design, lighting, music and the artistry of puppet designer Max Humphries.
As the story ends in triumph of good over evil one final dinosaur appears to steal the show; Mr T’s mother, larger than any other dinosaur yet seen and with huge big momma eyes rounds up her errant son and sends him off. She’s a delight.
The success of any children’s show must be the measure of how engaged the children are throughout. Whilst there was only a smattering of giggles and a minimum of excited children wanting to call out and join in, there was rapt attention from the majority of the tiny tots. Objective achieved.