What if dinosaurs did not die out in a mass extinction 65 million years ago and instead went underground and evolved over tens of millions of years into a vaguely humanoid species not too dissimilar from ourselves? And what if a catastrophic event drove them out of their homes and forced them to seek safety in our own and our government sought to contain them, both for their safety and for our own? And what would you do if you got a chance to visit the facility that contains them, at the launch of their dinosaur integration program?
This is the premise of Dinopocalypse, a new production from Ruckus Slam. Billed as an immersive, interactive experience, the show invites the audience to explore a key aspect of modern Australia for themselves, by attending the PR exercise launch party of the Australian Government’s new dinosaur detention centre immersion program in Brisbane. Throughout the night, the audience will mix and mingle with key centre staff, be introduced to dinosaurs living in the centre, see the centre’s key services, participate in Q and A sessions and make up their own mind about program and how they run things.
While Ruckus are best known for hosting Brissy’s favourite monthly slam nights for the young and not so young, Dinopocalypse showcases what a multi-talented crew they are. Using the dinosaur as an allegory for the refugee, and multiple performance modalities to tell the story, including theatre, dance, movement, sound design and even puzzles, Dinopocalyse takes the audience head first into the somewhat familiar and yet alien world of refugee detention centres. And boy do they go for all the feels. We are asked, what would you do if you came face-to-face with people in detention, how would you feel about the justifications made by the centre for their policies and treatment, and would you do something about it if you could?
It’s obvious that Ruckus has extensively researched Australia’s detention regime in the creation of the show and its characters. Having worked in refugee settlement myself, it was these details that got me – a staff member referring to dinosaurs by their ID numbers instead of their names, and a social worker cracking under the increasing performance measures imposed on the dinosaurs before they could integrate with society. Ruckus balances this well with moments of levity, particularly the tour guide’s PR spin with tongue firmly planted in cheek of the dangers posed by the dinosaurs to us and his sharp responses to the audience the a Q and A portion of the launch. Speaking to the creative team after the show, these themes touched many audience members on the first two nights and they were excited by how people chose to react to them.
Backbone provides a great setting for the production and the team use as much of the space as they can during the show, including the bar to the delight of many of the punters. It is always one of the joys of the Anywhere Theatre Festival to see a show set in unconventional spaces, and Backbone works a treat. Kudos must go to the Ruckus and Backbone crews for restaging much of the show inside the Backbone building, as during the week weather destroyed the original tent city setting in the old bowling green outside the venue. Despite this, and for a show on only its second night, Dinopocalypse already runs like a well oiled machine, which is a credit to the creative team.
While its imagery and themes of Dinopocalypse are not particularly subtle, they are based in the facts of the mandatory detention regime in Australia and provide the audience with an opportunity to engage with the issue outside of the sanitised lens of political PR machines and the media. Ruckus sensitively invites audience members to engage and interact as much or as little as they feel comfortable, ensuring that all have a unique experience of the show. For those not full versed in the language of immersive theatre, it may feel a little jarring to not see the full story of Dinopocalypse and to figure out themselves how much they want to interact with the material. Future showings could benefit from a more thorough briefing at the door to help audience members understand how they can fully engage with the show. This is a small issue however, as Ruckus does offers return punters a discounted price to see the show again.
For those ready to explore the material fully though, Dinopocalypse showcases one of the true strengths of immersive theatre – to take the punter beyond the fourth wall, from the being a passive viewer to being a part of the production itself. Immersive theatre can provide the audience with the opportunity to place themselves in familiar and unfamiliar scenarios, to test their reactions and to make choices outside their comfort zone. Some shows even offer audience members the choice to affect the outcome. At its best, immersive theatre can move us reminds us that we do have agency in our everyday lives and that often the only thing stopping us from changing the outcome and making a difference is ourselves. I dare you to see Dinopocalypse and not be moved to want to make a difference.
Adam Wood attended Dinopocalypse on 11 May 2018.