Attenborough and His Animals – Musical Theatre Musings

David Attenborough is arguably our nation’s greatest treasure, his nature documents loved by viewers of all ages. How on earth can just two performers in Attenborough and His Animals, recreate his epic adventures in the natural world? Read on and all will be revealed through a show that is full of energy and charm.

Fresh from a critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Fringe, Attenborough and His Animals has moved to Wilton’s Music Hall in London, a stunning venue that just oozes theatrical history, it’s fabulous. As we enter the auditorium there is just a bare stage, and so all of the pressure is on the two performers to deliver.

The show’s premise is simple. Two enthusiastic but somewhat gormless nature lovers are running an event at which they have booked David Attenborough to recreate one of his first TV appearances from the 1950s, bringing animals from all over the world into tonight’s venue to let the audience see them up close. There’s just one problem. David Attenborough hasn’t shown up. After a moment of blind panic, the host (Jonathan Tilley) has a cunning plan – he will pretend to be Attenborough and his colleague (Jess Clough-MacRae) will play all of the animals. What ensues is a masterclass in physical theater as these hugely talented performers, who also created the show, invite us to journey with them through the natural world.

Tilley’s Attenborough impression is uncanny as he narrates the various scenes that unfold over the next hour, occasionally taking on animal form himself to play out the creatures’ interactions that make series like Blue Planet such compelling viewing – notably some slow motion fights between a pair of kangaroos and then giraffes delight the audience.

The character of his assistant (Clough-MacRae) appears a little nervous and confused when she is asked by Tilley to take on the first animal role of the world’s largest creature (a blue whale) but this is short-lived and played to great comic effect as very quickly she has managed to perfectly embody the creature and all the others that follow. She has one of the most expressive faces I have ever seen on a stage coupled with impressive physicality, and you immediately believe that you are seeing the animals that she is portraying, they are brilliantly researched and her commitment to portraying them is second to none. She also demonstrates a great aptitude for recreating the sounds of the animals she is playing – particularly impressive as an Australian bird with a talent for mimicry.

Each creature that we meet is a highlight in a show with no weak points, but my particular favorite was probably the crab, taking us from laughter at its quirky little personality to fearing for its safety as with just a scuttle to the left the whole audience was rooting for it as our crab struggled to escape from various predators. I also loved watching the story of Eva the orangutan, who “Attenborough” followed from her early years through to adulthood. A komodo dragon and gorilla provided some excellent audience interaction, all done with exquisite attention to detail.

This is a show that will delight the whole family, full of mammals, birds, plants, reptiles, insects (and everything else that you can think of) that are utterly enthralling. However, it is not all laughter and joy – a short piece towards the end of the show touches upon the damage that man is doing to our natural world, using Eva the orangutan once again to help really bring the message home. It’s both thought provoking and heartbreaking. But the talented performers manage to bring the show to a close on a high with a finale that is also a celebration of this amazing world of ours, ensuring that everybody goes away feeling as if they have been a part of something special.

If I could offer any criticism it would be that the show’s start time is perhaps too late for some of its younger audience members as towards the end some of the youngest children were clearly flagging. I also recommend that families booking try to get seats as close to the front as possible as, despite the venue’s quirky charm, the rake isn’t brilliant for shorter people.

Overall, I can’t help but think that David Attenborough would love this hilarious, creative and emotional tribute to his work – it’s an outstanding piece of theater.

Review by Penny Walshe

Attenborough and His Animals is on at Wilton’s Music Hall until 3rd September. It is recommended for ages 6+ with a running time of 70 minutes. You can find out more and book tickets on their website.

If you like this review you might also like my review of Matilda, Frozen and Mary Poppins.

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