How does “Dragons and Mythical Beasts” from the UK’s Nicoll Entertainment make its troll and unicorn and, of course, dragons come to life? Puppetry.
Coming to Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre on Jan. 21, 2023, the show is produced by the creators of the London show “Dinosaur World Live,” including writer and co-director Derek Bond, puppet designer Max Humphries, and chief puppet fabricator Cheryl Brown.
According to the show’s publicity: “Unveil a myriad of dark secrets and come face to face with some of the most magnificent monsters and terrifying beasts ever to walk the earth. Discover the colossal Stone Troll, the mysterious Indrik and Japanese Baku, the Tooth Fairy (not as sweet as you’d think), an adorable Unicorn and majestic Griffin. Take your place among legendary heroes, just don’t wake the Dragon.”
The mythical beasts are brought to life as large stage puppets with revealed puppeteers (bunraku inspired) along the lines of the puppets and masks designed by Julie Taymor and Michael Curry for “The Lion King,” which premiered on Broadway in 1997, or the life-size horse puppets by Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa in the 2007 UK play “War Horse.”
“Our narrator for the day is hero trainer Dave, who resembles an extra from Harry Potter and is played with wide-eyed earnestness and enthusiasm by Ben Galpin. Dave is here to turn us into heroes – if only we’ll help him tame the herd of beasts that growl and prowl beyond the theatre walls,” Miriam Gillinson wrote in a four-star review (out of five) in a 2021 Guardian review. “…We begin with Max Humphries’ gentler puppets and build gradually to the bigger and scarier creations, which have been drawn from a range of sources, fears and fantasies. Co-director Laura Cubitt teases nuanced movement from the beasts (controlled by up to three puppeteers each), but it’s the animals’ personalities that impress. George the dragon is a bundle of puppy-like enthusiasm and the screeching tooth fairy is eye-poppingly, ear-piercingly odd.”
In a four-star review (out of five) 2021 TimeOut London review, Andrzej Lukowski praised, “how genuinely awesome the puppets are, though. From cute little scamp George the Wyvern, to a lumbering rock troll and a vividly-striped unicorn the size of a bus, they go way beyond what you’d need to impress a crowd of tweens. The craft is astounding, from the actual physical looks of the puppets – many of which are enormous – to the skill of the teams of puppeteers animating them, with a distinct physical – and indeed, vocal – language to each beast.”
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