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Dinomania review at New Diorama Theatre, London – ‘funny, smart and inventive’

Sophie Steer and Janet Etuk in Dinomania at New Diorama Theatre. Photo: The Other Richard Sophie Steer and Janet Etuk in Dinomania at New Diorama Theatre. Photo: The Other Richard

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a piece of theatre about the early days of palaeontology might be overwhelmingly dense – possibly even untheatrical. Thank God for Kandinsky, then, which has brought its usual deft touch to the story of Gideon Mantell – a country doctor and amateur geologist who, in the early 19th century,  discovered the dinosaur known as iguanodon. His contribution to the field was later challenged by the rise of Richard Owen, the eventual founder of the Natural History Museum.

Aided by Zac Gvirtzman’s characterful piano underscore, Dinomania borrows from high Victorian melodrama, slyly but affectionately pastiching the high-strung emotion and florid gestures of the genre – guns are brandished and piano keys are flourished at regular intervals – there’s even a proper swoon. It’s funny and effective, but the highly stylised choice does obscure the piece’s melancholic heart a little too much.

James Yeatman and Lauren Mooney’s text glows with playfulness and is appealingly self-aware, skipping decades and centuries within a single conversation. But this can sometimes be to the piece’s detriment, bringing scope but not quite enough depth to Mantell’s narrative. The ensemble cast, however, cannot be faulted, impressing for its playfulness and commitment, particularly Harriet Webb, who is blazingly brilliant in her haughty yet despairing depiction of Owen.

The majority of Dinomania is consistently smart and inventive, if almost too ambitious at times. But when it does settle down in its final third, and when its pensive core starts to bleed through – that’s when it really begins to roar.

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Funny, smart and inventive theatremaking about the early days of palaeontology