Review: Dinomania, New Diorama Theatre

Dinomania is a fast-paced look into Gideon Mantel’s (a well known geologist who collected fossils to prove evolution) life in the 1800s and the fascinating contradiction between religion and science.

This play is set before Charles Darwin appears on the scene and looks instead at Mantel’s life from childhood to death. The beginning feels convoluted and difficult to follow, but it soon flows into a deeply complex piece that is thrilling to follow. The plot is seen through the eyes of Mantel as you jump through time, witnessing his medical training, his early years and then his last days. But Gideon’s lifetime isn’t the most intriguing message of this story; the constant battle of geologists trying to prove evolution is what truly grips the audience. You watch the story (based on real events) of countless religious preachers disregarding scientific proof unfold, understanding how this destroys certain people’s lives, including Gideon’s. I for one have never heard this story told with such detail and was thoroughly captivated by the writing and storyline.

Not only is the story mesmerising, but it is also delivered with such conviction and wit that is hard not to love. At times it feels like a spoof, swiftly changing from comedic lines to dramatic statements that are shocking to discover and the luscious opera singing from the cast enforces this slapstick style. These moments add such drama and humour to the play that makes it truly distinctive.

As well as the choral singing, the whole show has Zac Gvirtzman accompanying the cast with a piano at the back of the stage. Gvirtzman plays and composes beautifully, as his melodic tunes ominously add to the suspenseful moments. It also adds elegance to the more sentimental moments in the play as well as fantastic chromatic sounds effects to represent deaths and horrific accidents. Gvirtzman has done a fantastic job with this show and Dinomania would feel very different if it weren’t for his music.

The cast is just made up of four actors, but who needs more than four when the cast you have in front of you fill the whole stage completely with their endless talent and energy? They are simply stunning, never dropping a moment or line, everyone is very charismatic throughout the show. All should also be credited for helping to devise this splendid piece. Janet Etuk, Hamish MacDougall, Sophie Steer and Harriet Webb all embody many different personas throughout the play, regardless of age or gender. They each become a caricature, from a young six-year-old boy, to a stuffy old man of 60 plus years within seconds of each other. They each have brilliant comic timing that portrays the fast-paced comedic style of the play very well. With all of this comedy however, do not be mistaken into thinking that the actors will not pull on your heartstrings and give a heartbreaking performance. Overall I have rarely seen such an electric cast where everyone is so equally matched and committed to a performance.

I thoroughly enjoyed this play’s fresh new angle on such a historic story and loved the fringe- like experience from start to finish.

Dinomania is playing until 23 March. For more information and tickets, see the New Diorama Theatre website.