REVIEW: The Colour of Dinosaurs (Polka Theatre)

Dinosaurs may have died out millions of years ago but they remain perennially popular with children, making them a firm favourite of those creating theatre for young audiences. If you’re in the mood for prehistoric play time, there’s a very special show currently playing at Polka Theatre. Aimed at ages 4-12, The Colour of Dinosaurs is billed as a “science pop gig” featuring five live musicians plus a real live paleontologist. Promising a combination of catchy songs and mind-blowing science, it offers an educational and entertaining experience, which digs much deeper than dinosaurs.

With the munchkins now hitting the top end of the age limit at Polka Theatre, Mummy often finds herself reviewing shows there alone these days. Even though a lot of their shows have an upper age recommendation of 12, they tend to cater to younger children, rarely suiting ages 10-12 unless specifically aimed at that age group. So a show with a wide age recommendation of 4-12 felt like a bit of a risk with a ten year old in tow. But it was a risk that very much paid off – Having declared that she was too old for Polka that morning, Quaver did her absolute best to look disinterested at first, but she was quickly won over by this spectacular production.

Based on the research of Dr Jakob Vinther (who actually stars in the show – even showing off some entertaining dance moves and singing skills), The Colour of Dinosaurs delves into the world of pigments, teaching audiences how we can tell what colour dinosaurs actually were. Combining Dr Vinther’s experiences with some high energy music (by Lloyd Coleman) and puppetry, it brings the science to life in a really engaging and exciting way. But it’s far more than just a show about dinosaurs. Devised by the cast (Dom Coyote, Lloyd Coleman, Dr Jakob Vinther, Victoria Oruwari, Harry Miller and Roxana Vilk), with writing by Malaika Kegode, it links the science behind the colour of dinosaurs to their own human experiences, resulting in a joyful exploration and celebration of diversity.

So what links dinosaurs to humans? As we learn from Dr Vinther, the magic ingredients are sausages and meatballs. Or – for a more scientific explanation – it’s all about melanin; the pigment that controls the colour of our hair and skin. Everyone has their own “melanin story”; like keyboard player Lloyd, whose albinism affects his hearing and the colour of his skin.

Singer Victoria also shares her own special relationship with colour; having lost her sight as a child, she developed synethesia which enables her to see sounds. This makes for a really beautiful moment in which audience members ask Victoria to tell them the colour of their own voice. Quaver’s one criticism of the production was that this section should have gone on for longer, as she really wanted to know what colour her voice is. She was, however, delighted to discover the science behind her blonde hair, and thought that the exploration of diversity was amazing. She declared the show to be “very social”, and was excited to see conditions like Harry’s ADHD celebrated on stage.

The production also touches on genetic and cultural heritage, with singer Roxana explaining that it’s hard to explain her story because she isn’t able to return to her birthplace. We also especially liked the inclusion of a more ambiguous message around singer, Dom who doesn’t seem to know his own story. It’s not explicitly revealed why Dom knows so little about himself, meaning his story is likely to resonate with different people for different reasons. This made it an interesting talking point for Quaver, as an adoptee.

The storytelling is also enhanced by some brilliant colourful design by Amy Pitt and Saskia Tomlinson, with lighting Design by Chris Swain. Young dinosaur fans will love the colourful dinosaur lights that really add to the energetic atmosphere.

Overall, The Colour of Dinosaurs is a really special show which will entertain and educate audiences of all ages. And although audiences may be drawn in by the dinosaur theme, they’ll leave having learned an awful lot about humans too.

The Colour of Dinosaurs plays at Polka Theatre from 11 May to 9 June 2024. We received complimentary press tickets to the 11am performance on Sunday 26 May.

Illustration by Sarah Tanat-Jones

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