Dinosaurs? AND pirates??
When we were invited to a performance of Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-Upon-Thames there was much excitement in our household. At two and four, our children are slap-bang in the middle of the target demographic for anything pirate- or dinosaur-themed, and the books are among Austin’s favourites.
Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, the first book of a series, is a clever idea by Russell Ayto and Giles Adreae (who also dreamt up the Purple Ronnie series, which seemed to hold a monopoly on greetings cards and small gift books during the late 80s and 90s).
For those unfamiliar with the book’s plot, it features a group of small children who find a secret world at the back of their teacher, Miss Pye’s cupboard. In it, Flinn and his friends chance upon the hapless Captain Stubble, whose ship has been stolen by pirate dinosaurs. So the children step in to help Stubble recover his vessel. It’s a simple, age-old tale of youngsters finding a magical land, far from the influence of parents and teachers. The ineffective Stubble is the only adult involved; and after voyaging to find the ship, the children battle a set of vividly described dinosaurs to regain control of the vessel.
The performance we saw had been dramatically translated from the book by Les Petits, from the team behind Les Enfants Terribles. Captain Flinn works well on stage. As the musical refrain went, “[we all] love adventure, and a quest”. A journey, with a fight at the end of it, is simple enough to perform in a way that even very young children can grasp.
I took Austin to see Captain Flinn at the Southbank centre, last summer. The show seems to have matured since then, with more assured acting. Will Seaward, who played Miss Pye and Captain Stubble, was of particular note: a cross between Robbie Coltrane and Jack Black, only with CBeebies training. At the Rose Theatre, there was more detail in the stage props, which included familiar objects like scooters, and bedsheets that happened to be the very same as Austin’s. However, I was a little disappointed not to see the same amount of shimmering hand-held puppets making crowd excursions as there had been on the Southbank. That performance was held in the round, whereas the Rose’s stage was a more traditional set-up, making actors’ trips into the audience more difficult.
That’s not to say that the audience wasn’t thoroughly roused in this performance. Cheering, shouting, clapping, and shouts of ‘behind you!’ were all encouraged, and our two children were completely engaged throughout. The appearance of the incredible, menacing T-Rex puppet, at the end, was perhaps a little more child-friendly because the dinosaur wasn’t able to scare the audience in close-up as it did on the Southbank (and I was even more fond of this creation the second time round. His face is terrifying, but he’s clad in a louche red satin dressing gown, reminiscent of Quentin Crisp…)
I would happily watch this jolly, rambunctious performance again. Following its stint at Edinburgh, it’s now on tour across the UK until the end of October. So if you have a child over two, do have a look to see whether it’s playing near you.
And, if you’re anywhere near Surrey/West London, it’s worth checking the listings at the Rose Theatre. It’s a friendly, comfortable space on the banks of the Thames, with a play corner for children, and decent food and drink on offer in their Swallow Bakery. They have a range of performances for adults as well as children. Top of our list is their Christmas performance of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Disclosure: we were given tickets to see Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, for the purpose of this review. All views expressed are my own.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.