Goodbye to the Dinosaurs

DitWSo a near nine month contract with Dinosaurs in the Wild in London comes to an end and I leave Timebase 67 for the last time. Although I have worked with the public a lot over the years I have never been involved in an immersive experience quite like this before – and what a privilege it was to be a part of!

A highly tuned and very technical show/experience running to a strict schedule (“time travel waits for no one!”), DitW combined phenomenal audio and visual kit, 4D technology, animatronics, extraordinary sets and set dressing to make for an incredible journey back into the Cretaceous for the many thousands of people who came to visit. But it was the live action, brilliantly directed by Cameron Wenn in London, assisted by Hannah Ellis, that helped bring it all to life….he says with just a bit of bias!

As an actor the show demanded a combination of freedom and truth together with a strict adherence to the mechanics of the production. This is not unique for actors of course, but when the mechanics are operating numerous buttons, props, levers, mics and sensors in multiple rooms as part of a multi-million pound set and the script has to be timed to precision, as do the many moments of improvisation and interaction with the public….well…you have to be on your toes. The wonderful public are also gloriously unpredictable of course, with all ages and emotions in amongst the 40 odd members per tour!

I have loved meeting so many members of the public but, as ever, it is the fabulous fellow cast members, stage management and technical crew, front office and creative team that I will miss most. It is an industry of hellos and goodbyes but this one has been, for me, really special. If it re-appears somewhere do catch it, but stay alert and if you go up to the world famous Chronotex look-out to see the dinosaurs, stay away from the windows…

Dino-Eggs for Easter

Eggs are a major part of the Easter tradition, but I may be in a minority of people who are guaranteed to witness the hatching of an egg at this festive time…and a prehistoric one at that. The tradition of eggs as symbols of new life, death and re-birth, dates back thousands of years to Asia, well before modern-day Easter; however my Easter egg activity will date back millions of years, 67 million years to be exact.

Dino Egg

Yes I have, in fact, been travelling back to the late Cretaceous period for a few weeks now and will be doing so up to Easter and beyond into the summer. Specifically the daily trip takes me to Hell Creek, Montana, although the jumping off point is, more conveniently, currently sited on the Greenwich Peninsula, London near the O2. Although shrouded in mystery for many years, the time travel company Chronotex has recently been allowing members of the public to travel in its time machines, or CTPs – Chronotex Transfer Pods to give them their correct names – back to Timebase 67, one of its 5 Timebases located in the deep past.

I have had the great privilege of being recruited as a guide for this incredible venture and daily I have been taking members of the public on what is, frankly, the trip of a lifetime. The rules are very strict of course, regarding such things as preserving the integrity of the past and using the technology in a responsible way, but this does not stop an “up close and personal” interaction with the main inhabitants of this period of history – dinosaurs.

After a painless, but exciting, “time jump” back to the Cretaceous, there is a ride in the mobile CTP across a sub-tropical terrain to the Timebase where I, or one of my colleagues, take groups of guests through a series of labs before going up to the famous “Lookout” where we are able to view a large range of dinosaurs, living in and travelling across the plains and forests of the area. I have to admit that this is not for the faint hearted. As we are a working facility and have to carry on our research work, visitors or not, this means that dinosaur body parts are on show, as well as certain dinosaurs that cannot be described as particularly cuddly. There is also the opportunity to see our scientists at work, for example in the autopsy lab – although there is a perspex screen to protect guests from any unpleasant smells and fluids that may be given off by the bodies of the animals.

One of the highlights of the tour is the visit to one of our hatcheries where our very own Easter dino-eggs are being cared for, some of which weigh up to 2 kgs each. There are usually several different species of dinosaur eggs in the hatcheries and, as eggs can take up to 3 months to hatch, there is guaranteed to be an Easter hatching. In fact the whole landscape is covered in eggs as dinosaurs lay many eggs at one go; the larger sauropods lay over 100 at a time for example. I have been lucky enough to witness many births so far, although it is still difficult to imagine that the cute little raptor babies will grow into vicious carnivorous predators…but they do.

raptor_chases_thesc-940x460

You may have read some scurrilous media reports about accidents and “incidents” at Chronotex facilities but I have seen almost nothing to support these claims. The safety of everyone working in and visiting the base, both adults and children, is always the number one priority and something that our rigorous training regime emphasised at all times.

I am certainly looking forward to a very different Easter this year and if you want to come along and witness the hatching of a dinosaur as well, trips depart daily and can be booked at www.dinosaursinthewild.com

Dino T Rex

(A version of this article first appeared in The Blackheathan, March 2018)