Review: Animal Nature (Clay and Paper Theatre)

Animal Nature, a uniquely staged puppet show for all ages, plays in Toronto park

A caribou recites poetry. An orca serves as an ark. A bear fights an excavator. A possum plays dead (as you may have guessed). These things and more can be seen at Animal Nature, a musical puppet show running in Dufferin Grove Park until August 16.

The plot of Animal Nature is simple. A cast of animals – a caribou, a possum, a bear, an owl, and an orca – tell the ‘humanimal’ a story from the past, a time when the land was being destroyed and animals and humanimals didn’t know how to work together.

The simple, easy-to-understand environmental message really lends itself both to the nature of the space and to the transitory nature of the audience, and the over-the-top, vibrant song-and-dance nature of the show naturally draws in the kids. There are, however, plenty of jokes for the adults as well, such as references to the possum’s anal glands.

The experience surrounding Animal Nature is an interesting one. Dufferin Grove Park is fairly large, and it isn’t immediately apparent where the show will take place. A quick scan around the park, however, reveals giant multi-coloured puppets and a small seating area. Unlike the Shakespeare in High Park experience, where the entrance is manned and the stage is in an enclosed area, the show is smack dab in the middle of the park, flanked by a playground and a soccer field.

Animal Nature quickly takes command of its audience by calling on them to shout suggestions, make sound effects, and even sing. At the beginning of the show there were only a few audience members, but by the end the number of people sitting in the audience had tripled. It’s an intriguing way to gather an audience – setting up in a public space and demanding the attention of those passing by – and who wouldn’t take notice of a giant multi-coloured caribou head?

The puppets themselves are impressive, appearing as giant, full-body suits with massive, brightly-coloured heads, each worn by a performer. Each is quite stunning on its own, but I was particularly impressed with the “humanimal” and owl puppets. They were absolutely gorgeous.

The two musicians are equally brilliant, each playing a wide variety of instruments to full effect. There’s also a moment when all of the set and artifice gets put aside, and the audience is treated to some shadow puppetry (an impressive technical feat before sunset) and some last final moments with the performers. The shedding of the masks makes for quite an effective close.

Animal Nature ended as casually as it began: a quick song asking for donations — I particularly enjoyed the line “we can’t eat applause” — and, that done, dispersal back into life in a city park. There’s something beautiful about how organic that conclusion feels. I hesitate to use the word ‘effortless’, as there was clearly a lot of work put into the show, but it certainly comes across as such.

Overall, Animal Nature is a great experience for adults and kids alike.


  • Animal Nature is playing from July 23 to August 16, 2015 at Dufferin Grove Park (875 Dufferin St., South of Bloor St. W., across from Dufferin Mall)
  • Shows run July 23 to August 16, 2015 (Wednesday through Sunday) at 7:30pm.
  • Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can, $10 suggested. No reservations necessary.