There’s something uniquely magical about arriving for an evening of theatre through the member gate of Edinburgh Zoo. As a setting it’s unique – of course it’s not the only zoo, but the panoramic views over majestic rolling hills and cityscape nestled beneath make for a stunning vista. Music plays and characters are positioned along the way to welcome us as we make our way to the Budongo trail, the start of our journey. Being a site specific/promenade piece, this is by nature immersive. The zoo provides a playground for performers, enabling an energy and physicality which simply isn’t possible in a proscenium arch or studio environment. There’s a joy to watching characters hurtling around, covering large distances with relative speed, being transported in a golf buggy and providing silent movie style comedy routines in the far background, while we pass by on foot. It’s thrilling to see this kind of theatre being staged and hopefully it will become an increasing trend.
There’s plenty of comedy and the show is interactive – well calibrated to suit children. The terrain is hilly and there’s a good deal of walking and standing, with much of the action taking place outdoors. But wrapped up warmly, this is no problem at all and the early evening wind whipping gently through the trees creates a special atmosphere. Apart from time spent watching the chimps when we arrive, we don’t really see animals along the way. However, well-planned costumes transform the performers into various guises and creatures, including penguins, birds and a lemur.
As this is in the open air to a large crowd (and those finding themselves at the back of the groups at each stop may miss bits of dialogue and action), it can become difficult to follow a story which already seemed a little disjointed with a slightly disappointing ending. This Grid Iron / Lung Ha production is part of the Science Festival, so it is surprising that the focus is more on a narrative, relationship based plot. However, this is visually a lot of fun and there are some really funny lines and very well executed comic performances.