Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass (Leicester Square Spiegeltent, until January 5th)
Dastardly dinosaurs creating swashbuckling mayhem on the ocean deep can only mean another popular children’s story is translated from book to stage as part of Leicester Square’s Christmas activities.
Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass, one of Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto’s adventure series featuring the same lovable characters, is brought vividly to life by the Les Petits Theatre company in this fast-moving and fun adaptation by Oliver Lansley. It is guaranteed to have you shivering your timbers with laughter.
Jollier than the Jolly Roger and with as many ho-ho-ho’s as there are yo-ho-ho’s this show in the Spiegeltent blends imaginative set (Zoe Squire using items from a school gym, such as ladders, benches and a trampoline imaginatively) with awesome puppets and costumes (Max Humphries and Zahra Mansouri), catchy songs (Jack Graham Thomas) and lively performances from a tireless cast of four.
The company presented the first Captain Flinn book on stage six years ago so are familiar with the characters and prehistoric pirate puns already, adding energy and zest to this sequel. But you don’t need to be an expert on Flinn’s other storybook adventures to enjoy this madcap exploit with the emphasis on well-channelled silliness.
Those familiar with the books will know about the kids at St Barnabas Primary School and their teacher Miss Pie who, as the show opens, are staging a low-cost drama about Captain Flinn and the pirates, complete with crash helmets, sieves and oven mitts as part of their dinosaur costumes.
But even as the budget-friendly T-Rex enters with a roar of, “We’re a T-Rex from the last crustaceous period!” the pupils lose interest, recognising that real dinosaurs were “bigger and horribler.”
With a yo-ho-ho and a full throttle of rum characters and jokes, so enter the “real” dinosaurs as the fierce and vain Mr T the T-Rex kidnaps Flinn and his friends to help him find the magic cutlass which grants unlimited wishes to those who find it (though as Mr T has smudged the paper telling him about it, he is convinced he is hunting for unlimited fishes).
lt’s a colourful and creative hour which contains enough energy, adventure and poop deck jokes for the little ones without them getting restless (the recommended age is three years and above) but there’s also plenty to hold the attention of the adults, such as the DJ Rocktopus fishcotheque populated by rave jellyfish (an inventive use of bowls and fluorescent scarves) and the charming shadow puppetry.
Along the way there’s the ever-present threat of walking the plank or being tossed into the sausage machine, which provides the staple diet for the hungry pirate dinosaurs. Anxious adults can be assured, however, that no humans or dinosaurs are harmed in the making of this high seas adventure.
The indefatigable four-strong cast defy exhaustion with lots of racing around and efficient quick changes in what is presumably a relatively small backstage space, but the vivacity never once sags.
Mark Middleton gives the somewhat terrifying antagonist Mr T vulnerability and a personaility one wouldn’t expect in such a larger than life dino costume. He also plays the schoolteacher Miss Pie, despairing as the production gets out of hand, and hoping to resolve the chaos by singing a tribute to her cat Harold.
Tom Myles is a fabulous Flinn, the young action hero with a stiff upper lip and a leadership verging on petulance, doubling up as Terrence the pterodactyl terror of the high seas. As the young hero he is given more depth of character than his friends and Myles switches easily from bold and brave to knee-trembling thumb-sucking. There’s a delightful tender moment when he loses his nerve and calls for mummy, which in turn leads to some careless wish-making and turns out to save the day.
Ellie Pawsey is both the fearless Pearl and Tracy the triceratops, while Stephan Boyce is the nervous Tom and Stephen the stegosaurus. There isn’t much opportunity for individual characterisation, but the cast members work well together to keep the attention rapt, injecting some healthy silliness when things are in danger of getting a bit too scary for the wide-eyed young audience.
Director Hal Chambers ensures a rollicking pace, setting a boisterous level from start to finish. Spielberg might be the master of directing dinosaurs on the big screen, but on a small stage Chambers does a very good job of making sure the large props and costumes aren’t too unwieldy and crams in more excitement in every scene than there are men on a dead man’s chest.
There’s a picture to colour on the programme, but it’s worth checking out the Les Petits website, where you can also download a range of fun activities related to the show. (https://www.lespetitstheatre.com/shows/captain-flinn-and-the-pirate-dinosaurs-the-magic-cutlass)
This X-tremely entertaining adventure marks the spot with a buccaneering holiday treat that is something to treasure.
Images: Gail Harland
A version of this review originally appeared on The Spy in the Stalls http://www.thespyinthestalls.com/