Monday, March 9, 2015

'Jurassic Park' at The Vault Festival 2015, 6th March 2015

Jurassic Park? On stage? In London? From the moment I saw the posters I knew I had to be there. Adapting Steven Spielberg's iconic dinosaur adventure for the stage is, to say the least, an ambitious proposition. Can theatre capture the jaw-dropping size of a Brachiosaur? The creepy/smart dexterity of the Velociraptor? The pants-wetting terror of being pursued by a furious, roary Tyrannosaur?

Surprisingly, the answer to those questions is essentially yes. But Superbolt don't rely on expensive animatronics or complex staging, this hot dinosaur action is conveyed on a budget of about 50p. Taking inspiration from Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, this is a 'sweded' Jurassic Park, where the mighty T-Rex becomes a backpack, or the shivering frills of the Dilophosaurus are an umbrella. The lack of rubber/CG dinosaurs might sound a bit disappointing to fans of the film, but trust me, I deeply dig Jurassic Park and it works beautifully.

I'd have been happy with a simple comedy retelling of the movie, but wrapped in and around the recreated scenes is an unexpectedly touching family drama. The conceit is that we're attending a village hall in Lyme Regis to remember the tragic death of a local paleontologist. She's left behind an ex-husband Terry (Frode Gjerløw) and two children, Noah (Simon Maeder) and Miranda (Maria Askew). All three riddled with grief; Terry struggling to cope with being the sole parent; Miranda fizzling with misdirected rage; and Noah growing increasingly socially maladjusted.

Frode Gjerløw, Simon Maeder and Maria Askew
But they're holding it together tonight - gathering the townspeople for a viewing of their mum's favourite film, as recorded on VHS in the mid 90s. But on opening the case the film is gone. Disappointment fills the room, only curtailed when Noah begins re-enacting the opening Velociraptor attack, miming the mis-aligned cage and yelling "Shoot her! Shoot her!" in a commanding, Muldoonish voice as some poor sod becomes dino-dinner.

All three actors possess admirable comic timing, especially when switching from their 'family' personae to the characters from the film. Though they're emulating chaotic improvisation there's a precision to their body language and interactions. Given how smoothly they slot together it's a bit perverse to single one performer in particular, but I loved the jagged, angular movements of Maria Askew; her sharp features and bun-topped hairdo giving her a definite Mesozoic aura.

The production peaks in the moments where the family drama perfectly melds with Jurassic Park. This often involves dialogue from the film being repurposed; for example Terry receiving a phonecall from his daughter's worried headmaster who tremblingly explains: "That one... when she looks at you, you can see she's working things out.

Clever though that is, it's eventually overshadowed by a bang-on analysis of the film's subtext. In classic Spielbergian fashion, Jurassic Park is stuffed with absent parents. Tim and Lex are only visiting the park to distract them from their parent's divorce, which is later mirrored by their being abandoned as T-Rex dinner by slimy lawyer Gennaro (who is subsequently satisfyingly munched upon). 

All the dinosaurs are similarly parentless, cloned and hatched in a sterile laboratory. The parental problems of both dinosaurs and humans dovetail in the final act; with Grant, Sattler, Tim and Lex forming an ersatz family unit and the dinosaurs overcoming their genetic destiny by spontaneously changing sex and becoming parents themselves.

Superbolt get this, applies the subtext to their own broken family. In play-acting Jurassic Park they begin to live its subtext, rekindling their familial bonds in the face of hardship. There's even a heartwarming spin on the story that I hadn't considered before; by the time our surviving heroes are escaping the park they've all grown as people. Alan Grant has realised that pleasure can come from creating new life rather than understanding old bones, Hammond now understands he cannot control nature and Malcolm knows not to run away from a Tyrannosaurus Rex while holding a lit flare.

The final shot of the film, of a flock of pelicans flying from the island symbolises the evolution of dinosaurs into birds. Here, Superbolt underline that even seismic shifts in life (mass extinction events / being terrorised by genetically engineered dinosaurs on an island theme park / the death of a parent) can plant the seeds of positive growth - Terry, Noah and Miranda closing the play as tightly knitted together as a DNA double helix.

As you can probably tell, this deft cocktail of comedy, dinosaurs and subtextual readings of film is very much my bag. I enjoyed every single moment of Jurassic Park, an admirable show that properly engages and understands its source material. It'd be real easy to do a 'sweded' Jurassic Park purely for laughs (and I'd probably enjoy that too), but this is smart theatre that's as thematically chewy as a severed goat's leg. 

I'd love to see this production transferred elsewhere for more audiences to discover. I'm sure it'd do gangbusters at the Leicester Square Theatre. Kudos to the ace Superbolt.


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