Walking With Dinosaurs

Adapted from the BBC series, this arena spectacular features life-sized T-Rexes and much more

Who doesn’t love dinosaurs? I for one was obsessed as a child with the giant reptiles that ruled Earth for 170 million years. Generation after generation has lapped up the books, the movies, the model kits and the museum exhibits. Now it’s time to see the prehistoric behemoths in the flesh...

Yes, the arena spectacular Walking with Dinosaurs has stomped into Belfast for the weekend, with its monstrous menagerie of life-size beasts. Whether you’re a kid, a kid at heart or a budding palaeontologist, the opportunity to have a tyrannosaurus rex roar in your face from just a few feet away is too awesome to pass up.

And so, the Odyssey is packed with dino-fans of all ages, screaming, cheering, laughing at the occasionally corny dialogue and waving those glow-stick things they always sell at arena shows as each specimen lumbers onto a stage set framed by gaping jaws. Presented in the round, there’s plenty of room for the slo-mo monster mashes that make up much of proceedings.

A stegosaurus swings its spiked tail, an ankylosaurus comes on like a tank on legs, and a vicious liliensternus reminds us where the writers of Frasier may have got the name for Dr Crane’s ice queen ex-wife.

Meanwhile, overhead, an ornithocheirus – a pterosaur rather than a dinosaur, as my fellow nerds will know – hovers in front of a video screen displaying its dizzying flight path. Some other species are too massive to feature in their adult form, and are represented by babies – which, to be fair, are large enough as it is.

It’s a masterfully put-together production. The lighting, the sound effects, the John Williams-esque score and an involving stage set make for eye-candy on a grand scale. But the main attraction is, of course, the hydraulic heavies themselves. With their rippling skin, snorting nostrils and blinking eyes, the dinosaurs are extremely realistic.

Most of the animatronic models are on wheels, with a mist of dry ice helping mask the technicians working underneath. It seems that there is a crewman to drive each creature around the stage in a cleverly disguised golf cart-type contraption, with the legs moving on pedals, while the head, arms and tail are controlled remotely. It might sound a bit clunky, but it works.

The smaller dinosaurs are brought to life by men in suits, including a 'comedy relief' T-Rex baby, whose feeble roars fail to match those of its momma and who milks the closing bows alongside the actor playing presenter Huxley, an Indiana Jones-style palaeontologist.

170 million years is a lot to fit into two hours, but this BBC spin-off packs in maximum prehistory for our pound. The narrative moves swiftly from the Triassic period to the Jurassic, climaxing with the dinos’ demise in the late Cretaceous and adding a coda describing how descendants of the dinosaurs are still with us today in the shape of birds.

Although Walking with Dinosaurs is essentially a family show, they haven’t dumbed things down, and there is plenty of talk of evolution, natural selection and survival of the fittest. For a country used to dinosaurs of a different kind muscling in with their out-dated views on the origins of life, this is most welcome. Now if we could only let a few T-Rexes loose at Stormont…