Erth’s Prehistoric Aquarium

Erth’s Prehistoric Aquarium
Writer/Director: Scott Wright. Carriageworks. September 28 – October 4, 2015.

From their Carriageworks workshop Erth have, literally, constructed yet another child- friendly, interactive, educational, theatrical experience. A prequel to Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo, it dives into deep prehistoric waters where “Marine biologist” Catherine and goofy “MC” Drew introduce the audience to the earliest of earth’s marine creatures, interspersing scientific facts with incredible replicas that ‘swim’ gracefully out of the dark ocean over the heads of the entranced audience.

Four puppeteers manipulate these awesome creations with a little help (and humour) from Drew, Catherine and her team of six young ‘interns’ sourced from the audience before the show. This is a great experience for the youngsters involved, who actually get to hold and move some of the smaller creatures and assist the puppeteers with one of the giant reptiles. As well, it becomes a tangible link to their counterparts in the audience. Director Scott Wright explains that the participation of the children also provides a constant sense of ‘renewal’ to the performance – as the cast can never really be sure how each team of ‘interns’ will react once they are on the stage.

This production tingles with a constant sense of awe. For the children the awe emanates from the giant, glowing creatures that appear out of the dark depths of the stage to lunge toward them and hover above them. For the more mature members of the audience, it emanates from the flawless construction of the immense creatures and the accomplished skill with which they are operated. There are no motors or computers here, only a series of intricate, cunningly designed wires and pulleys, some reaching metres in length, which are all operated manually.

It’s taken three years to realise Scott Wright’s dream – three years of devising, designing, assembling and contriving. In its cavernous workshop Erth’s busy, creative team trial multiple fabrics, paints, pliable wires and lights to fashion everything from the small iridescent creatures that first illuminated the ocean depths to the giant creatures that preyed upon them. It’s an incredible undertaking and one of which Wright, the creative team and the performers show well-deserved pride. Pride that is evident in the way they describe the initial ideas, their search for fabrics, how they achieve colour and texture, how their creations are operated – the care with which they are covered between shows.

There is a vibrancy in this production that starts with Drew’s silly jokes, is juxtaposed by Catherine’s winning smile and clear “user-friendly” explanations, and continues as each incredible creature twinkles and glows out of the dark stage. But perhaps the vibrancy really originates from the imaginative enthusiasm and tenacity of Scott Wright and the ingenuity of the Erth’s clever, creative team.

Carol Wimmer

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