Tango, Roy and Silo

Penguins: Corey Annand, Osian Meilir and Jack Webb. Pictures: Robert Day


Birmingham Rep Door


This world premiere of the wonderful, stylised tale of two chinstrap penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo, manages, in less than an hour, to both captivate and challenge our popular perception of theatre for children.

There are no words, no funny walks or slapstick, no silly costumes or video or songs, no TV spin-offs, just dance, with the only thing missing – imagination, and, the children in the audience supplied that in spades.

This was storytelling merely by dance and the youngsters in the audience loved it, perhaps showing how easy it is to underestimate the wonder of theatre and just how much a child can understand and appreciate.

 All they really need is a story to follow and imagination, the greatest special effect of all, does the rest to create a magical piece of children's theatre.

Roy and Silo were two male chinstraps that met at the zoo and in 1998 became an inseparable pair, performing penguin mating rituals, and nesting together.

A year later, in the mating season, they were seen trying to hatch a rock as an egg. Keepers substituted that with a real egg from a pair who had previously struggled to hatch two eggs at once, and Roy and Silo protected the egg, incubated it for 34 days until it hatched then nurtured a healthy chick for two and a half months until she could fend for herself. The chick was called Tango.

zoo keeper

Corey Annand as the zoo keeper, a sort of narrator of the tale of Roy and Silo

That, in an eggshell, was the story, told in dance on a deceptively simple set looking like a mountain of giant ice cubes. Ties became the chinstraps, the cubes became nests and lighting (Simon Bond) brings each cube to life.

The set, from Sabine Dargent, provides a climb up to what was to become the pair’s nest, as well as a tunnel for games of chase and a pool, enhanced by the lighting, where the penguins swam.

Carey Annand, a graduate from Birmingham’s Elmhurst Ballet School, plays first a zoo keeper finding clues to the unfolding story in the many drawers of an old cabinet, each discovery an interlude to introduce the next chapter of penguin life

The end of her zoo keeper’s tale is the egg, but then she becomes the female chick, Tango, with one of several simple but effective illusions devised by David Morgan.

Osian Meilir, from Ceredigion on the west coast of Wales, and Londoner Jack Webb are the two penguins and Birmingham based international choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra has produced a delightful narrative in dance.

The pair’s movement mimic penguin pairing rituals, play and parenting as well as remarkably effective swimming sequences when the penguins, a little comical and awkward on land, become as one with the water.

Dargent’s costumes are clever black and white outfits with hoods that are pulled up for swimming. They are not penguin outfits as such, yet they cannot be anything else and the yellow ties for males and orange for females is a subtle difference, which can represent pairing in some of the nesting boxes, and two males when it comes to Roy and Silo.


Jack Webb, Corey Annand and Osian Meilir  as the penguin family

Behind it all is a sympathetic score from Garth McConaghie. The tale is beautifully told and danced, and managed to keep children in the audience not just quiet, a feat in itself, but enthralled. My grandson, only six but a seasoned theatre goer – the benefit of a grandfather critic - rated it easily a five, which is praise indeed. The guide age, incidentally, is three and upwards.

Incidentally, in the real-life penguin story, when she reached breeding age, chick Tango went off to form a relationship with another female penguin, Tanuzi, while Roy and Silo started to drift apart after being forced from their nest by a more aggressive pair of penguins.

Then in 2005 Silo paired with Scrappy, a female brought in three years earlier from SeaWorld in Orlando, while Roy drifted off into a group of unattached males.

Directed and created by Paul Bosco McEneaney, artistic director of Northern Ireland’s children’s theatre company Cahoots NI, this Birmingham Rep production, a co-production with Cahoots and Prime Theatre runs to 10-02-18 then heads off on national tour until May.

Roger Clarke


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