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Walking with Dinosaurs

July 2009

If you were around when a Tyrannosaurus Rex sauntered in to the Broadmarsh Centre last month, you ain’t seen nothing yet. That was a toddler. The fully-grown Tyrant Lizard in Walking with Dinosaurs: The Arena Spectacular stands at over 20 feet and weighs six tonnes.
But the largest of the 20 life-size animatronic dinosaurs in the show is Brachiosaurus, which stands at a whopping 36ft. From nose to tail it’s 56ft.
These two tend to be the stars of the 90-minute show that comes to the Trent FM Arena next week for eight performances.
It’s the condensed story of their 200 million years on earth, narrated from the arena floor by paleontologist Huxley.
But you’ll be only half-listening to him, more interested in the next beast to emerge through the floor-to-ceiling curtains.
Last September a select few UK journalists were flown to New York to see the show, go behind the scenes, meet the cast and crew and see how this £10m Australian production, six years in the making, actually works.
In 15 years of reporting on entertainment for the Post, it’s one of the most astonishing, jaw-dropping and unique shows I’ve seen.
“The reaction has been brilliant,” says director Alli Cross, who has been in charge of the UK tour that started in Glasgow last month.
“I tend to hang around as people are leaving to hear their comments, so we are abreast of what they really think, and it’s been really positive – from all ages.”
She adds: “There have been some improvements since you saw it. These dinosaurs are brand new and even more realistic in terms of the way they look and move.
“On top of that, what we know about dinosaurs is still evolving. Since the BBC series they’ve found out lots of things. For example, the Brachiasorus, the one with the very long neck, they thought walked with the neck horizontal – but now they’ve discovered it was more vertical.”
Which did cause problems in Glasgow...
“He was able to be upright but we had to be careful of the lighting rig. It was tricky for the voodoo operator.”
He or she stands out of sight, wearing a rig that has the same joints and range of movements as each dinosaur. The movements are transmitted by radio waves to make the hydraulic cylinders in the actual dinosaur replicate the action.
The term voodoo comes from the similarity of the rigs to the voodoo doll.
There are two voodoo operators for one dinosaur plus a driver underneath it, steering what is essentially a fancy go-kart.
Apart from the Liliensternus, Baby T-Rex and Utahraptors, which are all elaborate suits worn by muscular performers, this is how each of the beasts is able to walk, run, fight and roar.
On top of the original 15 dinosaurs from the US production, there are three new remote-controlled Platisaurus babies on the UK tour.
“They look quite cute – it’s the first ‘Ahhh’ factor in the show,” says Cross, who lived in Arnold as a child.
“I first went to school in Nottingham at High Street Infants School and then Church Drive Junior School. My first appearance on stage was at the Theatre Royal in The King And I with Peter Wyngarde (TV’s Jason King). I was about six.
“The family moved away when I was nine but I’ve been back to Nottingham with a number of shows as choreographer or director – shows like CBeebies, The Tweenies and Bob The Builder.
“This is the first time I’ve worked with such big machines.”
The dinosaurs are made from a combination of latex, spandex, steel and aluminium and weigh up to 1.5 tons – similar to an average family car.
There will be 26 trucks rolling into Nottingham next week, 10 of which are solely for the dinosaurs.
“We had a Torosaurus that caught fire on the opening night of the tour in Glasgow,” she says.
“Fortunately it was backstage. There’s a scene where two Torosaurus fight so the two voodoo operators and driver controlling the other one had to ad lib and parade around making a lot of noise to fill in.
“No-one noticed,” she laughs. “It was press night but none of the reviewers picked up on it.”
Walking with Dinosaurs: The Arena Spectacular came to life in Sydney in January, 2007.
Since then more than 2m people have seen it across Australia and the US.
After nearly 100 shows in the UK this summer, the tour will stomp across Europe until May next year.
“We start in Belgium, then play France, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Estonia... and there are plans for it go in to Asia and Japan.
“There’s another tour still running in America that is booked up to 2011, so it’s doing really well.
“And there’s every chance it will be back in the UK at some point.
“We’re already being asked that, by people who are either on holiday when it’s in their city or who just can’t make it.”

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