Their frogs are remarkably frog-like, their penguins perfectly penguin-y, their polar bears delightfully lumbering.
—Joff Schmidt, CBC Reviewer
It's clear from the moment the lights come up on two hippos, lying in bed, staring back at us, that we're in for something special.
And ZooZoo, the latest show at Manitoba Theatre for Young People, is a remarkable show indeed - full of giggles, gasps, and lots of "how'd they do that?" stage magic.
The wordless, hour-long show runs through a series of sketches starring a range of characters from the animal kingdom - hippos warring over their blanket, penguins playing musical chairs, and a quintet of frolicsome polar bears among them.
ZooZoo runs through spring break at MTYP (Fritz Liedtke)
All of this comes courtesy of five talented performers from the Portland theatre company Imago, and a spectacular design team.
While the performers (Jonathan Godsey, Darren McCarthy, Keyon Gaskin, David King, and Pratik Motwani) are all skilled acrobats and movement artists, their abilities are nearly upstaged by the fantastic costumes they're given to wear (courtesy of "creature fabricators" Carol Triffle, Jerry Mouawad, Mark Forrest, and Cati Thomas).
The performers work in outstandingly realistic full-head animal masks - sometimes with corresponding body suits, sometimes not. That leads to some wonderfully funny, and slightly surreal, images (a hippo in a sleeping gown, or an anteater dressed as a waiter, for example).
When they work in full animal costume, though, the skill of the performing quintet, combined with the immersive detail of the costuming, makes the human disappear, leaving only the (very convincing) illusion of the animal.
Their frogs are remarkably frog-like, their penguins perfectly penguin-y, their polar bears delightfully lumbering. (And a note about those bears - they are animals, and so don't always respect the "fourth wall." If you have easily-startled kids, you might want to avoid the very front rows...)
The show (created by Triffle and Mouawad) is remarkably creative - a bit involving slightly menacing, accordion-like creatures has to be seen to be believed, and the final scene, where we finally see the humans behind the masks, involves some great stagecraft.
It's not a swiftly-paced show, though - it takes its time to build up its scenes. By and large, it still delivers enough laughs and whimsy to hold younger viewers, though in a couple of scenes (the frogs' scene, for example, and another with a "mystery creature" inside a giant paper bag), the payoff doesn't quite justify the build.
Overall, though, it offers plenty to entertain kids and adults alike. It'll be hard to beat a trip to ZooZoo for a spring break outing.ZooZoo runs at Manitoba Theatre for Young People until March 31.
Related: Leslee Silverman shocked at her dismissal from MTYP.