WALKING WITH DINOSAURS – THE LIVE EXPERIENCE
29 August – 8 September
Singapore Indoor Stadium
Dinosaurs came alive and stomped about the stage of the Singapore Indoor Stadium in 2010 and now, they have returned. Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience is back in Singapore, bringing with it 18 full-sized living, breathing dinosaurs.
The theatrical presentation is based on the 1999 BBC documentary series Walking With Dinosaurs, which has since become a successful multimedia franchise including subsequent series like Walking With Beasts and a 2013 feature film.
This arena show was developed by Global Creatures, an Australian company that has since produced How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular and the King Kong musical. Creature designer and creative director of the Global Creatures-owned Creature Technology Company Sonny Tilders recently won a Special Tony Award for King Kong, but it was Walking With Dinosaurs that put him and the Creature Technology Company on the map.
Walking With Dinosaurs Live is a technical and artistic feat. One can’t help but marvel at the staggering, magnificent beasts which are brought to life with a variety of techniques, combining old-fashioned performers in suits, sophisticated animatronics and what are essentially high-tech parade floats on wheels.
There are certain physical limitations in place, as this show is akin to a ballet for semi-trucks. Only so much can be done with the creatures, but that alone is impressive. The sheer scale of the larger dinosaurs, especially the 11-metre-tall Brachiosaurus with its neck reaching almost to the lighting rig above, is something to behold. The sheer power and ferocity of dinosaurs like the Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex is surprisingly convincing, and soon you’ll forget that these are masses of hydraulic hose, cylinders, fabric, foam and cabling and buy them as living, breathing animals.
There’s quite a bit going on with the set too – rock formations move apart then come together to represent continental drift, while inflatable trees and flowers sprout from the scenery, simulating time-lapse photography. The show’s lighting design is immersive, and all this is complemented and often driven by a lush, stirring musical score by James Brett.
While the adults in the audience will likely come away very impressed, Walking With Dinosaurs Live is still mainly aimed at children. The show is educational, with the character Huxley spouting facts and figures and giving us helpful background information, but all that takes a backseat to the spectacle.
Huxley is played by two actors during this production, Dominic Rickhards and Andrew Lewis (we saw Rickhards in the role). Huxley is a temporal tour guide, taking audiences through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods that form the Mesozoic Era, spanning hundreds of millions of years. The character is there not just as a narrator, but also to show the sheer scale of the dinosaurs and to sometimes run away from them.
There isn’t a lot of room in how the Huxley character can be interpreted, but Rickhards’ enthusiastic Animal Planet-style delivery helps tie everything together. It’s reminiscent of presenter Nigel Marven, who played a time-travelling version of himself in Chased By Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Park. We have great respect for how he must memorise reams of dialogue, as he is the only speaking character for the show’s 100-minute duration.
Just as the TV series did, Walking With Dinosaurs gives us snapshots of these animals’ lives, speculating on their behavioural patterns based on palaeontology. The dinosaurs are imbued with just enough recognisable attributes, achieving a similar effect as when we go to the zoo and compare the animals to our own friends and family. Since many parents will bring their children to watch the show, it makes sense that the show presents interactions between several dinosaurs and their young.
The show’s funniest and most emotional scene is that of the mischievous Baby T. rex, who tries to take on the much larger Torosaurus and Ankylosaurus, necessitating his rescue by his mother. The interaction between the Baby T. rex and his mother is heart-warming – again, it’s easy to forget that Mama T. rex is a giant machine on wheels, and that her baby is a man in a suit, even when that man’s legs are visible. It’s almost like how one stops noticing the puppeteer in a traditional Bunraku performance after a while.
While the story and the dinosaurs that appear remain largely the same, the show has been upgraded from its earlier incarnations with several of the dinosaurs being feathered, in accordance with current research. This reviewer felt like there was one step back: the flying Ornithocheirus was previously a puppet suspended on wires but has been replaced with an animated Ornithocheirus. While the CGI is good and while this doesn’t have the biggest impact on the show overall, the Ornithocheirus was the one puppet that was significantly different from the others used in the show.
Don’t let a CGI Pterosaur stop you from watching this though. For any dinosaur-obsessed kid, it is exhilarating to see the creatures realised so vividly before one’s very eyes – especially if you’re in the expensive seats and the Brachiosaurus cranes its neck, bending down to say greet the audience. There’s a lot to appreciate from a technical and artistic standpoint too. On paper, it might sound impossible to make a ballet for semi-trucks compelling but Walking With Dinosaurs Live accomplishes this feat.
Read my vintage review of the show when I saw it in 2010 here.