Chaos is the formula for laughter, in this loving, low-budget parody of Jurassic Park.
If it’s one country that has a thing for dinosaurs, it’s Singapore, with everything from the Jurassic Mile to Jurassic Park-themed rides at Universal Studios. Perhaps one film franchise that encapsulates that shared obsession and wonder for these ancient beasts is Jurassic Park, still going strong to this day with the recent release of Jurassic World: Dominion. And with all massive franchises, Jurassic Park lends itself to one thing – lovingly crafted parodies.
Originally created by New York-based company Recent Cutbacks, Hold On To Your Butts is a shot-for-shot parody of Stephen Spielberg’s classic 1993 film, and receives its Singaporean premiere at The Improv Company’s new Nook space at Aliwal Arts Centre. Directed by Luke Yu, the parody stars Miriam Cheong and Pavan J Singh playing every single character from the film, from Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler to the frilled Dilophosaurus.
Dubbed as a form of ‘lo-fi spectacle’, Hold On To Your Butts makes an attempt to poke fun at as much as it can of the original film, starting right off with the opening credits, recreating the spinning globe of the Universal logo. This is by no means a big-budget production, and the show itself leans in heavily to the guerrilla aesthetic for humour. With only a bare stage, props are scattered all around for easy access, from cardboard car doors to toy cars and figurines to represent climactic action scenes.
Characters are represented simply by a signature accessory, such as a backpack or a tie, while Luke himself also plays the foley artist, providing a medley of incidental sound effects using just a mic and everyday objects such as jam jars to punctuate each scene. It’s a pared down production style that reminds us of the very origins of theatre – evoking the power of imagination and the suspension of disbelief to make the impossible happen in our mind’s eye.
Where the show falters is in having so much filler material that isn’t parodied so much as re-presented in budget form. There are plenty of scenes where characters are simply summarising their lines rather than making fun of the original, often even just regurgitating more or less the same dialogue from the film. The attorney Gennaro for example, is reduced to a generic suit and represented by a yellow tie, while chief engineer Ray Arnold is literally referred to as Samuel L. Jackson and represented by a paper cutout of the actor smoking, but beyond that, doesn’t go further to spoof him. As such, for a lot of its runtime, Hold On To Your Butts feels a lot less like a parody than it is simply a lo-fi recreation of the film.
Hold On To Your Butts however, finds its strengths when it leans into having a clear idea of the way it wants to parody the original characters, mostly through slapstick humour and hyperbolic characterisation. Hammond’s grandson Tim Murphy for example, is immediately portrayed as a grating, annoying child with the way Miriam Cheong uses a Mickey Mouse-like voice to portray him. Couple that with the occasional f-bomb, and the incongruence between Tim’s intended innocence and foul mouth makes for peak comedy. In contrast, a character like Dr Ian Malcolm, who has already received countless parodies online for capitalising on Jeff Goldblum’s sexiness, or obsession with chaos, becomes tricky to push to new heights or dimensions. In this show’s rendition, Dr Malcolm fails to bring those personality traits to the point of exaggerated absurdity, paling in contrast to the canon of jokes already made about him.
It is when Hold On To Your Butt leans into mistakes, meta-jokes, and audience interaction that chaos ensues, and from the improvisational work that arises, is when it peaks. In any other show, mixing up characters and lines, and props going awry is a recipe for disaster, but in a show like this, is prime opportunity for the cast to show how quickly they can recover, and turn them into laugh out loud moments. Little quips to audience members when the actors break character, or make outright reference to the space around them, such as a ladder or broken air-con unit, skewers the ridiculousness of the entire affair, breaks the illusion of theatre, and has the audience giggling away.
It’s not every day you get to see actual Fringe-style theatre in Singapore, and what the Improv Company bring to the local scene with their space is an opportunity to. Hold On To Your Butts isn’t perfect, but it’s a show that takes a lot of guts to stage, and certainly, plenty of heart, with its commitment to putting on a show they can be proud of. If anything, it is the cast’s energy that carries the show, and from here, it hopefully paves the way for similar fare to pop up in Singapore, and ensure that The Nook @ Aliwal Arts Centre becomes a new home and breeding ground for accessible, no frills comedy.