DR STIRLINGSHIRE’S DISCOVERY
Reviewed by Mark Brown
A co-production between site-specific theatre specialists Grid Iron and Lung Ha (Scotland’s leading theatre company working with people with learning disabilities), Dr Stirlingshire’s Discovery offers a trip to Edinburgh Zoo with a difference. Opening as the Zoo closes for business, it takes its audience on a journey in pursuit of a newly-discovered species known only as The Something or Other.
The play tells the story of the seemingly unhinged “cryptozoologist” Dr Vivienne Stirlingshire, author of a number of books (including Are We There Yeti?) which chart her failed attempts to track down the big beasts of popular mythology. This time, however, she assures us that she has brought back to Scotland a previously unknown, purple-haired mammal.
The unveiling of The Something or Other has been organised by the good doctor’s brother, Henry, who is manager of our fictionalised Zoo. A gesture which, truth be told, is not entirely brotherly.
The siblings have been at loggerheads since childhood. Henry has organised the ceremony in the certainty that he will be humiliating his sister, whose “discovery” will, he feels sure, be nothing special or, indeed, nothing at all.
Anyone hoping to combine attendance at the performance with some animal gazing is likely to be disappointed; aside from a few sleepy chimpanzees and some small, wide-eyed primates peering curiously from inside their den, the Zoo’s residents are safely in bed before show time. Which is not to say that Morna Pearson’s Pythonesque script doesn’t have some weird and wonderful creatures up its sleeves.
As we walk around the Zoo in pursuit of The Something or Other (which has escaped), we encounter some blokes with antlers on their heads, apparently celebrating their friend’s forthcoming nuptials. They are, needless to say, the “stags”.
We also come across some zookeepers busy working on a stock-take. They have to start again when their boss points out that sparrows, squirrels and ants aren’t actually part of the Zoo’s collection.
If the jokes are good, so are many of the performances. The humour of the Lung Ha chorus is a delight, while the talented Antony Strachan gives a deliciously over-the-top performance as the pompous, but ultimately conciliatory, Henry Stirlingshire.
A modest tale, told simply, Dr Stirlingshire’s Discovery is very much a family show made with younger children in mind. Just take care not to step in any purple poo!
Until April 9: lungha.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on April 5, 2017
© Mark Brown