Ensonglopidia is an awkward name – but it's perfectly descriptive of this informative, scientific, musical show. It's the latest production from Fringe favourite John Hinton, best-known for his musical biographies of famous scientists, who this time leads us on an encyclopaedic A-to-Z gallop through the wonders of the animal kingdom. Billed as suitable for children aged 5 and older – but perfectly enjoyable for grown-ups too – it's an hour of unashamed natural-world trivia, bundled up in a series of witty songs.
A few of the obvious animals aren't there: Z isn't for "zebra", and you won't find any elephants, giraffes and lions in the line-up either. But Hinton explains, in song of course, that there's a reason for those omissions. His plan is to cover the whole of the animal kingdom – starting with well-known mammals, but ending with creatures so strange and unfamiliar it's surprising to learn they're even animals at all.
The music we hear is varied too. As a self-described "ageing rocker", Hinton naturally throws a few head-bangers in, but the Spanish Shawl Nudibranch (a type of colourful slug) is marked by a tune on the Spanish guitar. Hinton also dons a shawl for that occasion, just one of the many self-parodying costumes he sports during the show. Sometimes it gets brain-bending: at one point he's dressed as a leech, imitating Paul McCartney, pretending to be a spider.
There's no doubting the musical and lyrical skill, but the show is presented with a cheerful lack of polish. The hand-made props and costumes sometimes seem deliberately rough, and Hinton's performance hovers on the boundary between genius and chaos. It's obviously deliberate, and it works, I think; it makes the show simpler and friendlier, reinforcing the sense that we're exploring the world together. There's some fun interaction too – when we were asked to emulate the Japanese Spider Crab, I scuttled back and forth making claw-snapping gestures until my hands hurt.
If there's a criticism to make, it's that Hinton's cleverly-worded lyrics don't always get to the point as clearly as they might do. There was only one song I really didn't understand – something to do with an animal which both does and doesn't have legs – but a few times, I suspected I'd missed a few of the intended details. It's great that he doesn't spoon-feed us, but perhaps he's slightly over-estimated our ability to follow along.
So, my favourite animal? The Flamboyant Cuttlefish was hard to beat, but for sheer astonishment, I'll have to pick the Portuguese Man Of War. The fun-fact you'll learn about this one is scarcely believable – but it checked out when I looked it up afterwards. In fact, Hinton assures us, the whole show is peer-reviewed, a genuine education as well as an entertainment. So it's clever, it's tuneful and it's a lot of fun; Hinton's hit the right note again.