Review: In the Wings in Peter and the Wolf at Hackney Empire

Performance: 28 Mar - 16 Apr
Reviewed by Clare Thurman - Sunday 9 April 2006

Anne Geenan collaborates with Doug Fitch, choreographer Doug Elkins and composer Erik Van der Wurff in this family friendly, original movement theatre version of Sergei Prokoviev’s Peter and the Wolf.

The Prologue, a new addition to the famous tale, reflected the magical nature of the original tale perfectly and together they made a production ideal for children, in length and performance style. The narrator, with his smooth deep voice reminiscent of David Attenborough took us on a journey, incorporating light hearted comedy and the kindness one might remember from grandparents as a child.

Portraying children themselves, in the first half, the performers were vibrant, energetic and fully embodied their distinct but complimentary characters.

As each child was introduced tenderly by the narrator, snippets of the varied dance forms called upon by the choreographer emerged. Each had a motif, a distinct execution of each movement and facial expressions to match. Zoe, a slim long legged sprightly girl, Jack with boyish good looks and big brown eyes, Lucas, tough and chiseled with a piercing stare were just three of the seven likeable characters. In the classroom the teacher spun, flounced and nodded at them, as they broke into a physical soundscape of drumming, stamping and clapping. Rhythmic, fun and still in character the kids performed their tap dog like sequence weaving in and out of the space seamlessly with their wheely desks and stools.

Once settled they began their show-and-tell. One by one they told the class what they would like to do in the summer holidays. It was here that those audience members, who hadn’t guessed already, learned which animals the character would become in the story to follow in the second half. A series of tales, interspersed with Jack’s daydreams had the potential to be repetitive but the eclectic movement styles and fluid execution made for an exciting medley of performances. Most of the performers were clearly trained in classical ballet but the mixture of Capoeira, martial arts, break dancing and hip hop moves demonstrated their ability to adapt. Body ripples, attitude turns and tumbles followed each other in quick succession and in varying styles by each character. The daydream sequences saw the use of contact improvisation as a choreographic device, flipping, rolling and darting over each other smoothly and confidently. As daydreams merged with reality the scene was set for Prokoviev’s story to unravel.

The narrator introduced the instruments of the orchestra and their respective animal characters as the curtain was raised for the second half. It was after all a performance mainly targeted at children. The story itself was beautifully untouched and there were no artistic liberties taken. The teacher became the grandfather and each child an animal. The smooth transition was achieved and the characters enhanced through more animalistic movements rather than the human form we saw in the first half. Peter was as delightful as his former self Jack and bounded across the stage with fearless energy as Bird ruffled her feathers shooing away Cat and Wolf. Duck was the most lovable as he sat frozen, shivering, with his arms and legs outstretched as Wolf prowled around the pond. The hunters made their very own comedy duo and moved like machinery isolating their body parts with jerky attack.

The moment where the duck is swallowed whole by the wolf had a light hearted angle with a puff of feathers from the wolf’s mouth as the duck rolled quietly out of the lights and off the stage. The ending was understated and not dragged out as it so easily could have been.

The Hackney Empire is a delightful theatre, not too big, not too small and perfect for this production. A truly satisfying and enjoyable performance.

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