Attenborough and His Animals at Wilton’s Music Hall
East London’s Grade Two-listed building houses this award-winning physical theatre performance that packs in many of the animals seen on the beloved broadcaster’s programmes, from a “career spanning almost 100 years.”
The show opens with a scene involving faux technical difficulties in which the real David Attenborough cannot be found. Jonathan Tilley and Jess Clough-MacRae are good jesters: he decides to be the naturalist while she depicts plants and animals. Tilley’s voice is astonishingly similar to the biologist’s, which adds a sense of authenticity, and Clough-MacRae is brilliant, forming various shape-shifting creatures and plants from the natural world; one moment she is the blue whale, spouting water from her imaginary blowhole, in another she is a slowly unfurling fern. The swift transformations are well executed, from migratory birds to predatory sea creatures and giraffes battling for territorial dominance. Both performers come together to create the eight-legged octopus – a joy for the young audience as well as parents – while the detailed snail pace of the sloth is also a win, the children correctly guessing the name of the animal. Theatre group Clownfish educate while entertaining.
There is a range of music, including Dusty Springfield’s The Look of Love when the animals mate and the scores from Attenborough’s numerous productions underpinning the show.
It is amazing that the duo predominantly utilises facial expressions, vocalisations and physical theatre, with hardly a prop to hand. When an adult eagle feeds its young, the impressions are simultaneously hilarious and a little sickening because of the realism, which just goes to prove how good Tilley and Clough-MacRae are. One of the sweetest moments is the relationship between a female orangutan and her baby. The connecting scene, in which the audience hears the sound of chainsaws chopping down trees, is convincingly executed, culminating in the orangutans losing their home. Most of the production remains in humorous territory, but, like Attenborough’s famed programmes, the performers foray into darker issues like deforestation; Clough-MacRae eats an entire carrier bag to demonstrate the effects of plastic pollution.
Leaving viewers with the lasting impression of an adult gorilla, Clough-MacRae emerges into the audience and for a good few minutes intimidates a male member, who is clearly uncomfortable and affected by her realistic gestures. Some older children are a little indifferent, and the piece does lack variation, but the younger audience thoroughly revel in its silliness. Attenborough and His Animals will delight Attenborough fans as well as inspiring budding biologists and admirers of the natural world.
Attenborough and His Animals is at Wilton’s Music Hall from 30th August until 3rd September 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: