By BRUCE DENNILL
Peter And The Wolf / Directed by Elizma Badenhorst / Studio, Pieter Torien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg 7
Originally conceived in 1936 by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, in response to a commission by the director of Moscow’s Central Children’s Theatre, Peter And The Wolf was designed to help introduce young audiences to the instruments of the orchestra, and to help embed Soviet values of the time.
This version by VR Theatricals has had some of the harder edges taken off the original, with none of the characters getting eaten, the hunters and their guns being replaced by two naughty children and a box trap, and the wolf receiving rather gentler treatment than it did 80 years ago.
This more moderate approach is no less entertaining, and it’s certainly that case that contemporary children are less likely, as a group, to aspire to being a self-sufficient Young Pioneer (the Soviet equivalent of the Boy Scouts, which Peter was in Prokofiev’s imagining) but still very much in need of being reminded of timeless life lessons such as standing up for what you know is right and not judging others before we get to know them.
The cast, Justin Swartz (as Peter), Angela Sparks and Naret Loots (as Birdie, Catty, Ducky, Grandfather and the Wolf between them), make the most of the tiny space that remains between trees, boulders, a house and a cave made from recycled cardboard – another positive reinforcement for the children in the audience, even if it’s not overtly referred to. Everything, from the the costume changes to the swapping of the puppet characters (Peter is the only human role requires precision in the hitting of multiple marks, and director Elizma Badenhorst ensures that her charges are on point. There are a couple of moments where the pacing flags a little, but if these are planned spaces to allow a touch of breathing room for a particularly complex turnaround, they are neat enough, and unlikely to be noticed by the younger members of the audience.
The links between the characters and various instruments from the orchestra are carried through from Prokofiev’s original (with a couple of tweaks to include African sounds), and a fun interactive segment at the end helps to reinforce the lessons learned.
Slick, warm-hearted and full of smiles, this is both a tribute to classic children’s theatre and a fresh take on the styles used elsewhere on the contemporary scene.