My children love pirates and they also love dinosaurs, so you can imagine how much they love a book combining the two. Especially when the books are as fast-paced, adventurous and brightly illustrated as the Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs series, written by acclaimed children’s author Giles Andrea and illustrated by Russell Ayto.
Being such fans of the books, we had high expectations from Les Petits Theatre’s stage adaptation, currently playing in Wales Millennium Centre’s Weston Studio as part of its UK tour.
This new company has made it its mission to take well-known children’s literature and adapt it for the stage to, in their words, “inspire, enthuse, entertain and delight young audiences”.
And – aside from a technical hitch which meant today’s performance started a little later than scheduled – they do this incredibly successfully. We absolutely loved the show. Little E, my nearly-five-year-old daughter, Little O, my three-year-old son, and seven-month-old Baby I were captivated from start to finish, as was I.
In an action-packed 50 minutes or so, we shout, roar and sing as our hero Flinn and his school buddies step into their classroom art cupboard and find themselves in a magical world where they must help the hapless Captain Stubble reclaim his ship from the pirate dinosaurs.
The show does a good job of recreating most of what is in the book, adding and expanding on the much-loved story to make it long enough for the stage. When you’re creating a show for young children, you need to keep them engaged, and my children, and indeed those around us, loved joining in with the songs and shouting “he’s behind you” with all their might, as the school kids tried to find the pirate dinosaurs. I love that they are young enough to believe the actors can’t see the dinosaurs without their help.
The set is simple, yet colourful, and very versatile, with scenery turning around and unfolding to easily transform the classroom setting into the pirate world. There are nice touches in the props department too, with the cast travelling about on scooters, and some wonderful puppets depicting a host of sea creatures.
The cast of four (Will Seaward, Rachel Frances Dawson, Dan King and Paul Sandys) play both the children and their teacher, and the pirate dinosaurs and Captain Stubble. I wasn’t sure whether this would confuse my children, as the school children’s costumes are clearly visible under those of the dinosaurs, but they seemed to understand what was going on.
The downside to this doubling up of parts is that the big battle between the dinosaurs and the children isn’t quite as exciting as it could have been. We only ever see one dinosaur fighting with one child at a time, as the cast dart on and off the stage, swapping between their two parts.
Perhaps it’s a way of ensuring the youngsters don’t get too frightened before the big finale of the battle, when the captain of the dinosaurs, a tyrannosaurus rex complete with a hook in place of one of his claws, enters the stage. Unlike the other dinosaurs, T is in a larger than life full-costume with a booming voice that echoes around the stage as he threatens to cut up Flinn and turn him into sausages. The production team have done a great job in making T look exactly as he does in the book. He’s menacing, and a little scary even for the grown-ups, but thankfully he soon realises what a fantastic pirate Flinn is and vows to change his ways, ending the show with a classic good triumphing over evil moral but without it feeling judgemental.
In short, this is an energetic, colourful and fun adaptation of a brilliant book, where good triumphs over bad and children are centre of the action. Great family entertainment.
The show is running until Saturday. Visit www.wmc.org.uk for more information.
Disclaimer: We received complimentary press tickets for this performance, although all opinions are my own. A version of this review also appears on the Theatre Wales website.