Four and a half billion years ago, our Earth was a dark and cold snowball of a planet – until an asteroid hit, thawing the planet and warming it to such an extent that single-celled organisms thrived to the point of evolution. In a theatre full of primary-school-aged children, Erth’s Prehistoric World begins its story here, in a place of origin so surprisingly familiar we can’t help but be filled with pride: South Australia.

Through the use of life-sized and exceptionally convincing puppets, and audience interaction with the puppets, the show teaches about primitive sea creatures and ancient dinosaurs that swam the waters and walked the land we now know as Australia.

With only 5 per cent of our ocean’s floor having been explored, it’s amazing to think we even have knowledge of the kimberella quadrata, an extinct bilaterian organism from the late Ediacaran period, and when these and other underwater creatures swim through the air – sometimes glowing green, purple and pink, sometimes over the heads of the front-row students in the audience – it is a stunning dance.

Then, as we move to the land reptiles, our guide doesn’t tell us about the tyrannosaurus rex and stegosaurus that roamed North America. Erth’s Prehistoric World boasts stories of the leaellynasaura, found in Victoria, and the lightning claw from Lightning Ridge in New South Wales. Not only do we learn about the eating habits of these creatures and what the placement of their eyes say about their intelligence, we also hear about the Australian palaeontologists who found their fossils.

Erth’s Prehistoric World brings dinosaurs vividly to life. Photo: Atmosphere Photography

Fusing the long-running and world-touring shows Prehistoric Aquarium and Dinosaur Zoo, this show is presented by Australian company Erth Visual and Physical Inc. Artistic director and co-founder Scott Wright is passionate about bold delivery to children of experiences shedding light on natural history (as well as First Nations stories, sociology and urban mythology), while co-founder Steve Howarth, as head of design, and makers Katrina Lynch and Celia Curtis are fearless in their artistry of creating frighteningly realistic and altogether sublime puppets.

At times the puppeteers are visible, so there’s no risk of thinking the animals on stage actually exist and might take a bite out of the crowd, and this works not only to quell the anxiety levels of certain children, but also to remind us that the link between humans and animals is both precious and precarious.

Leaving us with a message of “We can help save animals from extinction”, Erth’s Prehistoric World is an experience that brings the prehistoric world literally to our children’s fingertips, while proving that theatre can be constructive and exquisitely magnificent.

Public performances of Erth’s Prehistoric World (recommended for ages five to 12) are being presented at the Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, at 10.30am and 1pm on May 20 and 21 as part of DreamBIG Children’s Festival.


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