REVIEW: Peter and the Wolf (Silo Theatre)

Review by Rachael Longshaw-Park

[Kiwi Ingenuity]

Silo Theatre have taken a step in a new direction with Peter and the Wolf, throwing aside the tried and tested and really allowing the imaginations of their designers to flourish in this delightful piece of children’s theatre.

Peter and the Wolf is a musical fairy tale written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936, originally intended to teach young children about the instruments in an orchestra. Each character has its own musical instrument so the children could follow the narrative. This aspect still remains in the form of a six-piece band, but Silo have developed the music into a forty-five minute visual spectacle using live animation and puppetry. The story echoes the original but this time is set in our very own Auckland city. We see Peter, who has flown across the world to live with his grumpy Grandfather, struggle to make new friends at school and instead find friendship in a sweet, little sparrow. The sparrow and Peter decide one night to try and capture the wolf who has escaped from the zoo, hoping that with the publicity from the heroic act, Peter will easily make some new friends. It is a pure and simple premise that is easy to swallow and easy to sympathise with, after all, who hasn’t been lonely from time to time?

The live animation shown on the large screen above the audience is recorded in real time, Julie Zhu carefully orchestrates a visual film using a hand-held camera as incredible set pieces are discovered through the lens of her camera, following the protagonist on his journey. Rachel Marlow, deserves much accolade for her overall lighting design and commitment to re-creating theatre-esque lighting in miniature form for each of the tiny landscapes. This level of creativity shows off our infamous kiwi ingenuity at its best.

Using the convention of puppetry is an inspired choice, striking a balance between reality and fantasy. John Coddington is the creator behind the wide-eyed and adorable puppets in Peter and the Wolf, with puppeteers Rachel Baker, Ralph McCubbin Howell and Rebekah Head confidently maneuvering multiple puppets. The puppets take inspiration from European style wooden puppets, which is apt considering the origin of Peter and the Wolf. There is a beautiful duality at play, not only between the actors and the puppets but the animation and the live skill of the puppeteers. There is something truly enchanting about watching all the action, both story and mechanics, play out on stage before you.

The audience is taken into a world that mirrors our own reality, the familiar sights of Auckland are recreated in miniature size. St Kevin’s arcade, Myers Park, the sprawling motorway – all hand painted onto small sets that are uncovered throughout the show. The choice to use our own city faintly suggests this magical world coexists with our own, a parallel through the eyes of a child.

All aspects of the show are carefully and thoughtfully explored, however, when put together they don’t quite sit right. The trajectory of the music, imagery and narration feels jarring as often they fail to harmonise. There are also many moments where transitions feel clumsy and under rehearsed, which is disappointing for an opening night. If Silo can raise their standards and take the time to reflect on the cohesiveness of  the show, Peter and the Wolf could soar much, much higher.

It’s incredibly encouraging to see Silo Theatre take a risk on such a creative venture. In a climate where companies tend to play it safe with big names and award winning scripts, it’s comforting to know that one mainstream theatre company is willing to let their creatives flourish and create something new and refreshing.

Peter and the Wolf plays at The Herald Theatre until 9 December. Details see Silo Theatre

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Leigh Sykes

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