Lots to uncover in Bone Wars
Matthew MacKenzie’s Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists is a little difficult to explain. First, we have four children accompanied by a Palaeontology PHD candidate (Chantelle Han), canoeing down the Red Deer River in search of fossils, until a storm blows in and they’re forced to take shelter in an abandoned mine.
When they take shelter, an argument between Tickailia (Elena Belyea) and Thulasy (Kristen Padayas) triggers a curse from the 1800s, where children (who love dinosaurs the most) must decide who was the greatest bone hunter of them all – Edward Drinker Cope (Davina Stewart) or Othniel Charles Marsh (Leona Brausen). Along the way, the children are guided by Morna (Beth Graham) and her gang of ladies who we discover were taken advantage of by Cope and Marsh in their quest to discover more species of dinosaurs than the other.Throughout it all, there’s a message about the history of the land we live on and what we are doing to the earth through our boundless desire to exploit it for things like fossil fuels.
Throughout it all, there’s a message about the history of the land we live on and what we are doing to the earth through our boundless desire to exploit it for things like fossil fuels.
The cast of Bone Wars by Matthew MacKenzie. Photo credit: Mathew Simpson.
It’s hard to believe but the play Bone Wars is based on an actual, almost comic, rivalry between the two scientists known as the Bone Wars or the Great Dinosaur Rush. In the two scientists’ rush to find as many species of dinosaurs as possible, they resorted to such tactics as bribing people who had fossils on their land, stealing each other’s fossils, and even blowing up dig sites – not to mention public relations tactics they used to try to win public favour. That theme of exploitation of people and natural resources is what resonated most with me in this play.
This was the first play my niece, who attended opening night, has seen, and her verdict was that she liked it. I haven’t seen many Theatre for Young Audiences plays, but what I loved about Bone Wars was that it positioned the children as both the central characters and the heroes of the show.
Matthew MacKenzie and Punctuate! Theatre’s production team did a great job of layering so many different ways to access the show – the script, of course, but also Laura Raboud’s catchy music and Amber Borotsik’s imaginative movement design. The movement design matched the quick pacing of the show and often had the actors moving about the playing space in a way that created a swirling confusion as the script travelled throughout time and geography. But the show also featured these beautiful moments of the actors assembling into and holding a pose that resembled the dinosaur the script was talking about. As Bone Wars is as much about discovery as adventure, Zsofia Opra-Szabo’s imposing held a ton of fun within it, as the actors uncovered various surprises, like fossils, within the set.