dear zoo

Dear Zoo – Live

Coventry Belgrade


Rod Campbell’s children’s book has been a firm favourite with tots since they first found animals under the flaps in 1982.

With eight million or so copies sold the only surprise is that it has taken so long to bring it to the stage.

Here it is though, with a script by Campbell and vastly scaled up animals, all based on the menagerie found under the flaps of the book.

As a book it takes me about five minutes to read to my grandson, including lacing it with animal noises, so Campbell has done well to stretch the tale out to almost an hour.

But its brevity as a book is its appeal. It is short and simple with the novelty of hidden animals. Two-year-olds want the tale told over and over again, anticipating each animal as they raise the flap, and many know it off by heart if the audience was anything to go by.

They knew each animal and why it was rejected long before the cast got around to telling them.

And the telling, like the book, was simple. Ben, played amiably by Harrison Spiers, writes to the zoo asking for a pet, encouraged by his friend Sally, the equally friendly Molly Waters.

Whereupon the genial zoo keeper Sam delivers a whole host of animals which are interesting and fine enough specimens but not quite pet material.

There is the elephant who is too big, the giraffe who is too tall, the camel who is too grumpy, the lion who is too fierce, snake too scary, monkey too naughty, frog too jumpy until finally . . . an animal suitable for a pet. If you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil the surprise.

Each animal comes with a song with kids encouraged to join in, often with actions. The songs are hardly taxing, or as far as adults are concerned, that interesting, but with a target audience starting at two then simplicity is the key, but I am sure kids can take a bit more musical complexity. Still, they seemed to enjoy it.

Emma Longthorne weighed in with the animal voices, and I suspect she was the puppeteer for the animals and in the monkey and frog suits on a set from Ian Westbrook, a set very much in keeping with Campbell’s own book illustrations, the animals arriving in various size and coloured boxes.

Director Michael Gattrell keeps things moving along at a gentle pace while Cambell’s script merely embellishes his original story with a little extra dialogue and a few songs – as the old adage says, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Sound was an issue at the start, but soon settled down, and it was a surprise there was no curtain call, merely a bye, wave and off, which left adults and seasoned theatre going kids a little baffled.

But adults are not the audience here and young children loved it, so much so that my two year old grandson, three in June, and his six year old brother had a game of Dear Zoo with a large appliance box when we got home – perhaps with variations which included things being eaten and having to escape/be rescued from the box, but the thought was there.

Both are theatre regulars, my eldest has some 30 odd shows under his belt, and both enjoyed it and they are the ones that matter.

Kids shows are important. They are the spawning ground of the next generation of theatre goers and there is enough here to sow a seed in the minds of the youngest of audience members, perhaps sparking an interest that may last a lifetime. To 07-04-18

Roger Clarke


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