Review: ‘Hold On To Your Butts’ at the PIT. Or: “Isn’t live theatre amazing Tim?”

Thomas Burns Scully

Two actors and a foley artist recreate the original Jurassic Parkbefore your very eyes. Its a ridiculously good as it sounds.

With ‘Jurassic World’s indominus-sized box-office gross still roaring in the distance, it’s safe to say that for the first time in two decades, dinosaur-mania is back. Toys ‘r’ Us are selling dinosaur toys, people everywhere are wearing their old ‘Jurassic Park’ t-shirts, and TV stations are re-running the original movies. But there’s only so far all of this can go to quell a fever. So what’s a dino-phile to do once they’ve seen ‘Jurassic World’ three times, bought the t-shirt, re-watched the two good ‘Jurassic Park’ movies, bought a raptor hand-puppet, made a vine with it and eaten a bowl-full of dino-nuggets? Well, after they’ve watched ‘Land Before Time’, I can whole-heartedly recommend a trip down to the PIT to see ‘Hold On To Your Butts’; a live, shot-for-shot remake of ‘Jurassic Park’ performed by two actors and a foley-artist.

As far as ‘so-crazy-this-could-work’ concepts go, this show is up there with Jurassic Park itself. But unlike Jurassic Park, these guys pull it off, with considerable style and hilarity. It’s actually quite a hard show to write about, because, essentially, I’ve already told you all there is to tell you about it. It’s two guys, and a girl with a microphone playing the world’s biggest game of ‘Jurassic Park’ imagination-play. It’s exactly as much fun as you would expect that to be, and you will laugh yourself insensible. In essence, the show can be summed up thus: “It’s really, really, really, funny.” And that’s really all you need to know. If you have a soft-spot for Jurassic Park and like to laugh at things which are ridiculous, this is for you, you will not be disappointed. I certainly wasn’t.

Of course, I can’t end the review there. There are certain standards of reviewing to adhere to, and I certainly wouldn’t want to feel like I’d done this show a disservice, because that is the last thing it deserves. The whole thing comes together in a flurry of under-budgeted, over-enthusiastic, goofy genius that warrants at least a couple more paragraphs. It’s certainly the brand of stage-craft I’m coming to know director Kristin McCarthy Parker for, who I now appear to be stalking from one excellent production at the PIT to the next. I was a huge fan of her work on ‘Kapow-i GoGo’, and that has anything but waned after seeing HOTYB. Like ‘Kapow-i’, HOTYB has excellent pace, almost frenetically jumping from one thing to the next, and, whereas in other productions the high energy may make the show confusing, here there is no loss of focus whatsoever. When you watch a great production as an audience member, it’s always hard to say exactly what it is that the director did, but I can safely say that, whatever it is she’s doing, Parker is doing it incredibly well. Clearly one to follow.

The action of the play itself is basically what it says on the poster: Two actors using extremely limited resources to recreate ‘Jurassic Park’. Nick Abeel and Kyle Schaefer are said actors, and their inventiveness knows no bounds. With the help of props mistress Ashlee Springer they use everything available to them, and less, to do their job. Some choices are more obvious than others: a spinning umbrella makes a helicopter, whereas a hovering backpack indicates the character of Tim, as played by (now former) child actor Joseph Mazzello in the movie. Like the original movie, however, the dinosaur effects are where the real game is at. Production company ‘Recent Cutbacks’ have stayed true to their name here, and done away with the need of animatronics, puppets and CGI. Instead they create dinosaurs using strapped on traffic cones, bicycle helmets, tissue paper and human fingers. The true majesty of this has to be seen to be believed.

HOTYB’s inventiveness doesn’t end with the props, naturally. Nick Abeel and Kyle Schaefer work together as a solid unit to create all the characters of the film, and their impressions hit right in the funnies. Each characters ends up playing most of the parts in the movie at some point. They don sunglasses and get all stoic when they have to Sam Neill; they get doddery and British when they have to Attenborough it up; when the time comes to Goldblum, they stutter like they’ve got a sponsorship deal. I won’t tell you what they do for Samuel L. Jackson, but I will tell you it’s hilarious. The two actors work together brilliantly, they are clearly incredibly comfortable with one another. They have the rhythm and trust emblematic of all great double acts, and the outrageous amounts of stamina required for this show. They kill it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Kelsey Didion too. As important as either of the actors, she is the foley artist for the show, and she more than earns her stipend. Whether she’s using a mason jar to create the noise of lab instruments, or gently saying “Rooooar… in the distance” in to a microphone, she adds an extra something to the show. She elevates it from being just two people titting about in a black-box, to two people titting about in a black-box whilst someone else makes dinosaur noises. And it’s brilliant. It’s exactly like when you used to play dinosaurs as a kid. Except it’s done by grown-ups who’ve been to college and should know better. But they don’t. As a silly evening of non-stop laughs, I can’t recommend it highly enough. But I will certainly try.

Does it have any flaws? Well… no. It has the useful ‘get out of jail free’ card that because it’s trying to look low-budget, the shoddier it looks, the better. I will say that, on reflection, it isn’t exactly a shot-for-shot remake of ‘Jurassic Park’. That’s something you simply couldn’t do. How do we know it’s not shot-for-shot? Well, this show clocks in at about seventy-five minutes, whereas ‘Jurassic Park’ is two hours long. So, ‘nuff said, but it’s hard to take any real issue with this, given how much fun you have. The shortening of the script also makes humorous light of the emotional shallowness, and self-important grandiosity inherent to much of the Blockbuster genre. This is highlighted further when the show diverts from the original script, which it does from time to time. When you’re being hit with a leafy twig by a grown man doing a Sam Neil impression going “Isn’t live theatre amazing Tim?” it’s hard to look at Summer Spielberg in the same way again.

So what’s there left to say? Not a lot, besides “go and see it”. This show is pure, unadulterated fun. An evening for the big kid inside you who hid behind the sofa from the t-rex. A show that’s more akin to improv than legitimate theatre, and is all laughs, all the time. A show that is so simple in conceit that it’s bound to inspire rip-offs and imitators, if not a whole theatre genre in of itself. It’s theatre for the Robot Chicken, and Mystery Science Theatre 3000 crowd. There are a lot of places competing for your money off-Broadway right now. There always are. I can state categorically that this is worth your time. Go catch it, and, as always, hold on to your butts.

Hold on to Your Buttsruns at the PIT through to July 27th.

Full show schedule available here:

Tickets : $20

For more info on the show and Recent Cutbacks: