Dr Zeiffal of the Hippo Institute is a Special Archaeological Hippo Expert Enthusiast. Zeiffal’s number one dream is to see the semi-aquatic mammal in real life, which is what brings her to Waterloo – there’s been a hippo sighting! This isn’t so far-fetched – 130,000 years ago, when Britain’s climate would have been more like Sub-Saharan Africa’s, hippopotami did live here, roaming around Leeds and even swimming in the Thames. Mouth of Lions’ production invites audiences to join the hapless Zeiffal on a hippo-hunting quest.
As a passionate, if hopeless, hippo fan, Zeiffal (Georgia Murphy) has developed a range of hippo-hunting instruments, though she seems prouder of their branded packaging. No mind, she still gives us a thorough hippo-hunting lesson, demonstrating how to use the hippo caller, the hippo pump, the invisible hippo blanket and the hippo google goggles, teaching us what to do if we see a hippo (fling our arm in the air and shout ‘Hip hip hip hip hip’), and throwing in some invaluable hippo facts too – did you know that hippos love doing impressions of cars and eating candy canes? It’s a timely tutorial, as a hippo soon starts stealing across the stage, though Zeiffal’s ineptitude means she just might miss it once again.
With it quickly becoming clear that the audience are more competent than the bumbling Zeiffal, she soon has an army of young people keen to help. Murphy skillfully sets up this dynamic, with Zeiffal’s attempts at professionalism and seriousness despite her massive ineptitudes only making the audience laugh harder. The Hippo That Can Never Be Caught is Murphy’s show (though a couple of other characters pop in), led by her improvisation and interaction with the audience. On the whole, these elements and the script work well, though combined with some of the lengthy pauses between lines and the show’s slightly slow start, at times it feels self-indulgent – the early awkwardness with the map, and the later scene in the blanket, for instance, just go on for too long.
The show is taken to surprising places, including a hippo chase that reaches the roof – the audience are left with an empty stage, and only the sound of thudding feet from the ceiling above. However, it generally feels like a hippopotamus-themed pantomime, relying on an awful lot of ‘It’s behind you’. Still, the audience are gleefully whipped into a hippo-hunting frenzy, and for a first children’s show, Mouth of Lions have created an hour of good family fun. And who knows? If climate change continues – and Donald Trump seems set on ensuring it will – than perhaps Blighty will soon be warm enough for the hippos to return. When that day comes, there’s some newly-trained hippo hunters ready to leap into action.
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