Home » London Theatre Reviews » Dinomania by Kandinsky at the New Diorama Theatre | Review

Dinomania by Kandinsky at the New Diorama Theatre | Review

Dinomania at the New Diorama TheatreThere’s an academic snobbishness that Gideon Mantell (1790-1852) (Janet Etuk) encounters that is probably just as indicative of its era as it is of scientists who are used to collaborating with people of a similar background and social status. Whether they this by default or by design is something that could be debated as vigorously as scientific discussions about whether the universe itself exists by default or by design: that is not the main focus in Dinomania, in which various leading experts in natural history generally express a belief in God, even if this is only lip service.

The level of detail in this production is very high, and thus it is demanding, in the sense that sitting back and letting the show wash over oneself does not result in maximum enjoyment of the play. A briskly-paced show, the production does well to highlight both Mantell’s personal and professional lives and manages to tell a cradle to grave narrative, without an interval. Zac Gvirtzman plays piano and makes music throughout – ‘throughout’ being the operative word, a near-relentless support to the dialogue, I occasionally wished it would pause every so often and to let the words being spoken speak for themselves.

Some inventive use of props to portray patients in Mantell’s work as a doctor and the fossils that focused Mantell’s mind out of hours was pleasing to see. Hamish MacDougall and Sophie Steer take on various roles (including, respectively, Mantell’s father and wife) seemingly effortlessly. In a long scene, set in the Royal Society, various arguments and counter-arguments are posited in a spirited discussion. Because of the subject matter – how geology aids understanding of the world in which we live – the play becomes very riveting or otherwise rather shallow and pedantic. I enjoyed seeing all those different perspectives, though I can understand why some might feel differently.

The costumes, particularly given the nineteenth-century setting, were not much to write home about (but neither were they completely out of place), and a large number of characters are gradually introduced, often merely by the performers stating who they are playing. Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892) (Harriet Webb), who went on to become the first director of the Natural History Museum, doesn’t appear until relatively late in the show (albeit at a point commensurate with the narrative), and it is not until even later that his rather vindictive nature became clear.

While much consideration is given to Mantell’s life (including, in one scene, a house move to Brighton, and in another, a disagreement between Mantell and his wife Mary over the use of the kitchen table), Owen’s life story is rushed through, such that the production comes across as more biased than perhaps was intended. That said, Owen had taken credit for Mantell’s work, and those of others, and had gone out of his way to discredit Mantell, so the play could be interpreted as somewhat redressing the balance. Mantell is hardly a heroic figure himself – eventually, his wife leaves him over his obsession with his research. Oops.

I cannot vouch either way with regards to the historical accuracy of every point made in Dinomania – there is, I suspect, a degree of creative licence exercised (and why not?). In an era where politics and intellectual property continue to permeate academia, and not necessarily for the better, this play highlights how far the field of natural history has come, whilst also reminding audiences that some other things just don’t change. An intense and worthwhile experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Dinomania tells the true story of Gideon Mantell, a country doctor outside of the 19th-century scientific elite, who nonetheless worked tirelessly to reconstruct the structure and life of the Iguanodon, beginning the scientific study of dinosaurs as we now know it. Mantell discovered several of the first dinosaurs, but it was another scientist, Richard Owen, who grouped them together and named them dinosauria.

Performed and devised by Janet Etuk, Hamish MacDougall, Sophie Steer and Harriet Webb

Music composed and performed by Zac Gvirtzman
Co-designers: Joshua Gadsby and Naomi Kuyck-Cohen
Associate Designer: Lizzy Leech
Scenic Artist: Amy Pitt
Consultant Production Manager: Heather Doole
Stage management: Hanne Schulpé
Director/co-writer: James Yeatman
Producer/co-writer: Lauren Mooney
Dramaturgy: Al Smith

DINOMANIA by Kandinsky
19 February – 23 March 2019
New Diorama Theatre
15-16 Triton Street
Regent’s Place
London NW1 3BF


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