As a big dinosaur fan, getting a preview ahead of the UK tour of Walking With Dinosaurs was a real treat.
Invited along behind the scenes I had a chance to mix with two of the stars of the show. It’s not every day you come face to face with a Torosaurus; that’s for sure. This 30ft, gentle giant is not too dissimilar from a triceratops, or a rhino if we’re thinking about animals around today. With the largest skull of any terrestrial animal, and that enormous neck frill, it’s an incredible sight. The Torosaurus is one of the larger dinosaurs in the Walking With Dinosaurs show and fitting perhaps, to be the one to showcase whilst taking a few moments to speak with director, Scott Farris.
Scott is no stranger to large scale productions like this and I managed to ask him a few questions.
I approached Scott and his first words to me are ‘that’s fantastic, look at this shirt’ – he gestures to one of the crew guys to take a look at the glistening T Rex made out of sequins on my tee. Thank you, I reply, I thought it was appropriate for today. – gestures towards Torosaurus and general stage setting in the arena- (side note: my dino tee is unfortunately not available any more as it was a Zara purchase a year or two ago, here’s hoping they bring more out as this sequinned tee has been getting all the compliments lately)
Growing up, were you a big dinosaur fan?
Yep, I have two brothers and we had a massive set of dinosaurs. But I left them behind when I grew up. And when I came back to this show, I was surprised by how much more knowledge there was about dinosaurs and paleontology had just grown and they’d discovered more specific information. So it was a re-education and re-immersion into the world of dinosaurs which has been delightful. I’m not a dinosaur expert but I’ve learned a lot by being involved in this. I’ve spent a lot of time with Tim Haines (original documentary on BBC) so I learned a lot.
If you were to sum up what visitors can expect from the Walking With Dinosaurs show, what would you say?
I don’t think there’s another show out there of this scale, that gives you such an amazing visual treat. At the same time there’s an educational component, and absolutely; entertainment. So it’s fun, a fun journey and a great show to watch. And you’ll come out a little smarter at the end.
The Torosaurus takes three puppeteers to control, one as a driver – imagine being a dinosaur driver? That’s something I want to add to my CV, don’t know about you? – and two in the voodoo puppeteer lounge which is located in the heights of the balcony. Speaking to one of the puppeteers was incredibly interesting and of course, I’m not here to spoil the surprise but if you are curious as to how everything works, read on. If not, skip this next paragraph!
With one dinosaur driver to move the character on stage, the second of this dino’s crew controlling the more intricate movements; rearing up, bowing down and even blinking. Thirdly, we have the puppeteer responsible for sound effects. The three coordinate and of course rehearse extensively to ensure these movements and behaviours are as lifelike as possible. Believe me, when you’re stood just a few metres from a Torosaurus, it certainly seems incredibly realistic. Especially when it turns to look at you and grunts.
If my morning wasn’t already a total delight, I also had the chance to speak with Michaela Strachan. Remember her from The Really Wild Show? Accompanied by a Baby T-Rex, Michaela came out in her paleontologist character, Huxley’s uniform, and beaming smiles. Talking about being involved in the show, Michaela has firmly gripped this opportunity, a whole world away from her pantomime days and indeed, Springwatch (and counterparts Autumnwatch and Winterwatch) where you may have seen her more recently.
Asked which dinosaur would be her favourite, Ankylosaurus, she replies. It’s got all this armour and a big club tail. Their brains didn’t have to be so big as they were herbivores, so they have a face you can’t help but like.
Baby T, brought to life by one puppeteer in this incredible costume, was full of energy and the mannerisms really were excellent. I certainly be-friended this one, as you can see from the top photo in this post, adopting my Owen Grady raptor techniques. The same probably wouldn’t be said for the Mother T, though I am excited to see her at the weekend when I head back to the area for the show.
Walking With Dinosaurs is touring the UK before venturing overseas, starting in the North East.
Newcastle Metro Radio Arena 20-22 July
Birmingham Arena 26-28 July
Liverpool Echo Arena 31 July – 1 August
Manchester Arena 3-4 August
Nottingham Motorpoint Arena 7-8 August
Sheffield FlyDSA Arena 10-11 August
London O2 Arena 14-19 August
Leeds First Direct Arena 22-23 August
Glasgow SSE Hydro 25-26 August
London SSE Arena Wembley 27-30 December
For full details on ticket availability please visit the relevant websites for each venue. Tickets start from £29pp and Michaela will not perform during the 3pm matinee slots across the venues.
Is Walking With Dinosaurs something you’d like to see?