Two Peter and the Wolfs (or is it Wolves?) in one day begs to be compared and contrasted, doesn’t it?
So, Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and other wild tales is put up as a show that kids and adults can enjoy equally, and in a way lives up to that. Although billed as ‘a completely spellbinding re-working’ and ‘brims and sparkles with vibrant images’, it proves to be somewhat less than promised. This is in essence a cut-down version of the Prokofiev favourite, with just three musicians providing the orchestral motifs, and a narrator telling the story exactly as in the classic, only at greater length and in that over-excited, but rather plonking style that is often thought the way to speak to children. The visual images consist of them wearing fur hats. While it puts over quite clearly the idea of orchestral instruments and musical phrases representing characters, it is done in a manner more suited to the classroom than the theatre, and without humour or much attempt to engage directly with the kids, much less the adults. It is all competently done, but not exactly brimming with imagination or action. And following it with another two, lesser known, Russian folk tales set to music doesn’t really liven things up, as reflected by the restiveness of the kids and the polite but not over-loud applause at the end.
Peter and the Wolf (and me) at the Rondo is genuinely a re-working of the piece, with a narrator and just one musician. Here the story is used as a jumping-off point for the narrator to tell his own story, of his childhood in the newly- independent Zimbabwe as the son of a white mother and a ‘coloured’ (the precise meaning of which term he explains vividly) Muslim step-father. The musician is African, playing African instruments, and occasionally comments on the action or offers advice to the narrator. He, Nicholas, is fond of the Prokofiev story, as is Mum, but he also loves Michael Jackson above other pop stars of the time. He takes us through his difficulties at school, his rough and tumble relationship with his best friend, and boyhood mischief with the animals and neighbours around him. All as ways of coping in the difficult and deteriorating conditions at home as step-dad goes further into alcoholism and violence, while his side of the family stay resolutely in denial of it (“He is a Muslim. Muslims don’t drink”). It is a story told without self-pity and with tremendous energy and vigour by a narrator who leaps and cavorts with the restless energy of the child trying to find his way in a baffling and dangerous world of adults.
John Christopher Wood