School for Dinosaurs – Smock Alley – Review by Audrey Devereux
Smock Alley Boys’ School – 12pm and 6pm – 24th-28th July
Tickets €10, €8 concession
Going to Smock Alley Theatre is always a pleasure, the visitor is sure of a warm welcome from the friendly staff and a relaxed preshow atmosphere in the beautiful, historic surroundings. Today’s experience was no different as I and my 7 year old guest went to see Underdog Theatre Productions’ latest play School for Dinosaurs, written and directed by Cian O’Ceallachain. The show is written for a suggested age group of 8-12 yr. olds (it is suitable for all ages, but not the very tiny because of well-timed dinosaur roaring sound effect content!).
The action begins with Chloe (Andrea Bolger), new to secondary school and taking first year exams. The tick, tick of the clock and insistent, imperious Examiner’s voice (Rory Dunne) puts her under serious pressure and she struggles to keep focus. Plagued by self-doubt and confusion in this challenging environment, Chloe ultimately makes grades that her well-meaning but business-like Teacher (Jessica Leen) says are ‘’barely passable”, she has midterm to decide if she will take her Summer Exams or not. Enter Chloe’s concerned parents, Ellen and Allen (Susan Barrett and Stephen Gorman) who are desperate to help but just don’t know how to communicate with their daughter now she is in secondary school. Then Ellen remembers Chole’s love for Dinosaurs and the School for Dinosaurs comes roaring into life.
What follows next is a home-schooled, two-week crash course in Chloe’s first year subjects, all through the medium of Dinosaurs. With plenty of references to every dinosaur enthusiast’s favourite movies, chiefly The Lost World and all the Jurassic Park movies, there are so many laugh out loud moments in this show you’ll wish all school was like this. My guest and I particularly enjoyed Dinosaurs as Gaeilge: ‘Rithim as an dinosaur’, a ukulele duet version of the Jurassic Park theme played by Dino Chloe and her Pterodactyl Dad (the original music is by Linda Walsh, the Jurassic Park theme features beautifully) and when Chloe’s parents do a Dino mini-version of Romeo and Juliet. While it can be hard to pitch a show like this to an audience, there is something for everyone here, especially anyone who has ever enjoyed a dinosaur movie and who has struggled with revision for tests.
O’Ceallachain’s script makes a plea to us to remember that learning should be fun and, as the Teacher says, ‘not one size fits all’ when it comes to the school system, and as Chloe’s Mum states ‘do your best, a test is just a test’. Making learning relevant and enjoyable should be the ideal in our classrooms and at home and he is bang on in showing that if you ignite a learner’s passion for a theme, it opens the whole curriculum in an exciting, new way.
Production values are simple but effective; dinosaur shadows abound in Colm Horan’s lighting design, Amy Flood’s aptly put together set looks like it could tour very easily, while Scanlon and Kerr’s costume designs are pure, colourful fun. Ema Hanley is credited as dramaturg, with Alicia Gerrard as assistant director, in this well thought-out and affectionate piece.
School for Dinosaurs is Underdog’s first such show for younger audiences, hopefully there’ll be many, many more.