Young audiences, like any audience, deserve a varied theatrical diet. There are the richly nutritious shows, providing emotional and dramatic edification; those ‘junk food’ plays that are entertaining without quite so much substance; and plenty in between. Monstersaurus!, unfortunately, seems far from a lovingly-prepared meal – it’s difficult to see what it brings to the table.
The show has promising ingredients: successful source material (Claire Freeman and Ben Cort’s picturebook of the same name), puppetry, audience interaction, songs, and lots of jokes about blowing raspberries. But they were put together about as effectively as Martin Kemp’s cupcakes on GBBO.
Monty is a keen, if usually unsuccessful, inventor, so when Mum lets him read before bed one night, he quickly opts for a new book he’s just found: Inventions Very Rare! Create Yourself A Monster But Only If You Dare! Soon, his bedroom becomes home to some new monster inhabitants who don’t always get along, and it’s up to Monty to put it right.
Though the narrative seems simple, Monstersaurus! is riddled with plot holes and inconsistences which make it surprisingly confusing. At one point, for instance, Monty despairs that all the words in Inventions Very Rare have disappeared and vows to find a way to get them back, but this is never followed up; when Mum opens the text later on, the problem has been mysteriously resolved. Similarly, a monster whose defining characteristic is that he speaks an alien language, somehow intersperses his song with lines in English. Whether the examples are big or small, they illustrate the same point: not expecting those watching to notice or care about these gaps and disparities suggests a lack of respect for young audiences.
Much of the action feels like filler, such as Mum and Monty’s sudden Holiday Dance. Masses of time is given over with each monster creation to getting a few members of the audience to bring up the invention’s ingredients: interaction is no bad thing, but in Monstersaurus! the story is interrupted multiple times for lengthy periods which only involve a tiny minority of the audience. With all this taking place on a pretty battered set, it feels like the show hasn’t been properly invested in either financially or imaginatively, despite touring to large, packed-out venues of families keen to see one of their favourite stories brought to life.
The team behind Monstersaurus! could look to many productions that have successfully tackled the same challenges. What the Ladybird Heard, based on the picturebook by Julia Donaldson & Lydia Monks, does a much better job of turning a slight text into a charming one-hour production, proving that more commercially-motivated shows don’t have to sacrifice on quality. Pins & Needles lovingly and thoughtfully adapt Raymond Briggs’ work into inventive and innovative pieces of theatre that still capture the essence and spirit of each book; so too do the various Horrible Histories adaptations, with the sketch show format very much in line with the original books’ style, and a script that clearly considers the parents’ experience as much as the children’s. There are also many examples of shows that have found ingenious and exciting framing devices for their picturebook adaptations, in particular Untied Theatre’s Library Lion and A Thousand Cranes’ Me and My Cat? All of these shows display the artistic integrity that family and young audiences deserve, and that appears to be lacking in Monstersaurus!.
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