Set against the imaginative backdrop of Edinburgh Zoo, Dr. Stirlingshire’s Discovery follows the quest of cryptozoologist Dr. Vivienne Stirlingshire in her attempt to capture and unveil the “something-or-other”; a wild animal, newly discovered on a safari trip in the Budongo Forest of West Uganda. The spectacle, performed by the esteemed Lung Ha Theatre Company for people with learning disabilities, takes place in the form of a promenade, wherein the audience are invited to partake in the expedition through a theatrical tour of the zoo, which proved a popular choice amongst young children. This piece runs until the 9th of April, forming part of Edinburgh’s larger International Science Festival, which takes place until April 16th.
The safari music, leading from the zoo’s entrance to the lecture theatre, was wonderfully immersive, showing a creative use of environmental theatre, complete with the added scents of mahogany and pineapple, which enhanced the multi sensory appeal of the piece. This precursory environment, however, seems a testament to Edinburgh Zoo rather than the Lung Ha creative team, who were unsuccessful at making a full use of their setting. The transition, from the chimpanzee enclosure of the Budongo trail to the use of actors in animal costumes was anti-climactic, seeming to undermine the site-specific purpose of the zoo. In fact, with regards to digression, the plot gets progressively less and less zoo related, at points diverting to a stag-do and a retirement party of a zoo-keeper, which was both unnecessary and interrupted the flow of the piece. Whilst, understandably, these additional scenes were designed to promote an inclusivity by allowing more performers to participate, this emphasis on quantity over quality compromised the coherence of the plot structure.
Antony Strachan stole the show with his impressive performance of Henry Stirlingshire, Vivienne’s jealous brother, which added a needed humour of sibling rivalry that undoubtedly formed the highlight of the play. However, Strachan’s performance was not enough carry the entire cast, whose weaknesses varied from missed cues, to generalisations of the African continent, which bordered slightly on Eurocentrism. Attempts to use audience interaction were commendable, notably by the animated Neil John Gibson in his role of Tim. Although, this friendliness was entirely undermined by the attitude of Emma McCaffery, playing Geena, who gave a rude dismissal upon being asked whether she was a zookeeper or actress, in turn interrupting my suspension of disbelief, even if unintentional.
Whilst deserving of an A for effort, this production can be considered to have the appeal of a nativity play; demonstrative of a fair attempt but also quite tedious, given the audience never actually discover “the something or other”. Time-wise, this piece ran well over the projected 90 minutes of the programme, and at £15 a ticket this amateur production is most certainly overpriced.
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