Reviewed by Flossie Waite
A Goblin Theatre production
Reviewed at Little Angel Theatre
Touring nationally until 31st December 2017
For ages 4+
“Each character of this tale is represented by a corresponding instrument in the orchestra” – so begins the traditional narrative of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the ‘symphonic fairy tale’ that at over 80 years old has been adapted across most mediums, and recorded by everyone from David Bowie to Dame Edna Everage. Though using an electric guitar and dropped beats rather than an orchestra, the intention of the original 1936 performance, and Goblin Theatre’s current rendition, is the same: by introducing children to individual instruments, Peter and the Wolf explores the relationship between music and imagination. The difference is that the former asks young people to use the sounds they hear to illustrate the story they are being told, whereas Goblin gives children – Peter on stage and, as active participants, the young audience watching – creative control over the composition itself: they must devise musical descriptions that capture the characters. It makes for an ambitious reimagining that basically does away with the entire symphony, save for a very few memorable refrains, which at the same time feels completely in keeping with its essence.
Traditionalists who don’t agree with this children’s classic being messed with, also might not appreciate the progressive political messages that have been woven into its narrative. Grandad’s attempts to keep Peter out of the woods aren’t protective but prejudiced: he demonises the wolves, insisting they must be kept out because “if we don’t, they’ll take our jobs”. The posh, animal-hunting, meat-eating, bigoted Grandad is the baddie, whereas the Cockney, eco-conscious wolf is misunderstood. It could all feel too ‘right on’, but the show does a good job of ribbing both sides: It sends up the eccentric, Dad’s Army-type grandad and his Scout grandson (who both sound rather like the clipped narrator on their old Peter & the Wolf tape), whilst also gently mocking millennial lifestyle choices like veganism and gap yah trousers.
This adaptation isn’t afraid to be radically different, going a long way to strip back the staid, didactic current that runs through Peter and the Wolf. However, at times it does stray a bit into drama workshop territory, with the characters telling the audience when and how to join in. This feels particularly unnecessary as the performers naturally build a rapport with those watching so that the audience feel genuinely invested in Peter and spontaneously engage with the action, proving that elsewhere they can get the same level of interaction without explicit instruction.
The puppetry in the piece is strong: a particular favourite is the teapot duck, as well as the first introduction to grandad as a snoring tent, that rises and falls with every cacophonous breath, and barks conversation through a zipped-entrance mouth once woken.
In every sense Goblin’s Peter and the Wolf aims to make a beloved classic relevant to a new generation. The means might feel as different as the blackboards and copybooks of Prokofiev’s day do to the hands-on, interactive learning in modern classrooms, but the ideas are the same.
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