Meet Mutty the Muttaburrasaur at Questacon
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Meet Mutty the Muttaburrasaur at Questacon

The Fellowship of the Egg. The Excited Particles. Blue Door Room Theatre, Questacon, until January 26. Free with Questacon admission. Arrive early: shows can fill up fast. Times and other information: questacon.edu.au/visiting/whats-on.

Mutty the Muttaburrasaur was the star of the first of Questacon's Dinostory series of shows. Now he's back in a return season of that show, The Fellowship of the Egg, presented by Questacon's Excited Particles performance team every day until January 26.

David Cannell, right, and Mutty the Muttaburrasaur.

David Cannell, right, and Mutty the Muttaburrasaur.

Excited Particles theatrical performance coordinator David Cannell says the educational show is aimed at children aged three to nine. In it, Mutty, the world’s naughtiest dinosaur, goes in search of his parents' missing eggs, accompanied by the audience. Along the way Mutty meets strange new dinosaurs and evades danger.

"The show is very, very interactive for the early childhood audience," Cannell says.

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"For children it's all about the imagination."

Audience members are encouraged to move and roar at various times and to visualise other characters and settings.

The Muttaburrasaurus langdoni was a real, herbivirous dinosaur that lived in north-eastern Australia about 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. A partial skeleton was discovered in Queensland in the  early 1960s near the town of Muttaburra by grazier Doug Langdon - hence its name.

Although the Muttaburrasaurus was about seven metres tall, Mutty is nowhere as big. He is a hand puppet created by a student of Muppet creator Jim Henson, Cannell says.

Someone offered him the puppet nearly 20 years ago, asking if he could do anything with it.

"I said, 'Yes! I can!'" he says.

Cannell is the original writer of this and many other Dinostory shows since the series began in 2000, and is also one of the performers. The scripts have evolved over the years through various performers' suggestions and preferences.

Mutty is also a Questacon veteran, who has seen a lot of service as one of the stars of the Dinostory series, performed during most school holidays.

"He's had five or six different heads and four different bodies, but he's still the same puppet," Cannell says.

Among the other dinosaurs in the show are the Stegosaurus, the Triceratops and the Tyrannosarus rex - the more familiar preshistoric creatures which enable the show to appeal to a wide audience.

A statue of a Muttaburrasaurus in Hughenden, Queensland.

A statue of a Muttaburrasaurus in Hughenden, Queensland.

The show lasts only about 25 minutes, taking into account young children's attention spans. Audience members should arrive early as the theatre often fills quickly. There are two each weekday.

"It can be exhausting - we used to do three shows a day," Cannell says.

After each performance, he says, many of the children don't want to leave and pepper the performers with questions and comments.

It's a testament to the enduring appeal of dinosaurs, especially to children - perhaps because, as paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould once said, dinosaurs are "big, scary and dead".

Cannell was one of those dinosaur-loving kids, but says his interest in them eventually dissipated ("I discovered girls"). But when he completed a zoology degree and did work experience at Questacon, where dinosaur research was being undertaken, he found himself "utterly captivated".

He's been working there a long time and has also spent some of his holiday periods on dinosaur digs in Queensland. The allure of dinosaurs, it seems, never really went away - it just lay dormant. And now Cannell is doing his bit to educate the paleontologists and natural history students of the future by helping to keep the love of dinosaurs alive.

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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