Miniature Dreamscapes: A Review of Peter and the Wolf

Silo Theatre's latest production sets Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf in a magical miniature Auckland. Madeleine de Young reviews.

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Silo Theatre's latest production sets Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf in a magical miniature Auckland. Madeleine de Young reviews.

When you’re small, the stories you see and hear teach you how to make sense of the world around you. When I was small, my hunger for stories was huge and like most, my parents quickly got tired of "another story?" So they clicked on to the power of a good audiobook. With the added magic of music, I could listen to as many stories as my heart desired before falling asleep, tapes still running. As an adult, falling asleep to the comfort of a story is still a perfect cure-all for those nights when I just can’t get to sleep.

Originally intended to teach young people the instruments of an orchestra, Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf a magical and simple story of a lonely boy with an adventurous spirit who ends up finding friends in unexpected places.

In their latest production for children and grown-ups, Silo Theatre’s Sophie Roberts has reimagined this classic and rehomed it in the centre of Auckland. Each night, a new narrator leads the audience on a 45-minute journey that follows Peter and his troop of animal friends on a hunt for the wolf; travelling from Peter’s lounge, past loops of motorway, through the alleys of K Rd, and out into Myers Park.

The six-piece band on stage is surrounded by a number of white boxes. As the production unfolds, videographer Julie Zhu opens each box to reveal teeny tiny sets created by set designer Dan Williams with lights by Rachel Marlow. As Zhu whips around the stage casting her camera lens on set after set, operator Stephen Paul hops around what must be a gazillion cues to blend her camera with a second fixed camera for the puppets (created by Jon Coddington and puppeteered by Rachel Baker, Ralph McCubbin Howell, and Rebekah Head). These elements are projected onto a screen that hangs above the audience, forming a beautiful live animated film.

Behind the madness of the puppets and videography, musical director and adapter Leon Radojkovic leads a stripped-down arrangement that brings a rock’n’roll feel to Prokofiev’s score. Peau Halapua on violin retains Peter’s Theme on the strings but other than that, gone are the flutes, french horns and oboes. Instead there are instruments that kiwi kids are much more likely to get their hands on themselves – a modern drum kit, a bass guitar, saxophone, keyboard and vibraphone.

The stars of the action are the beautifully-constructed puppets. They’re marionettes – string controlled puppets – and can move their little arms and legs, but not their faces. Instead their expressions and emotions are communicated via movement, proximity to the camera, and the musical themes associated with each character.

By crafting the story in front of our eyes, Sophie Roberts' production encourages your imagination to flutter. In isolation, each element is intricate and superbly executed and yet to fully appreciate the work you’re compelled to both hone your focus on each individual moment as well as the film itself. It’s a sensory overload that compels you to become emotionally invested in the work. We’re embedded in it – surrounded by the music and focussed intently on the workings of it.

The magic of all of this is that it feels like the beginning of a journey that could continue in your dreams. It’s the sort of production where you want to gather up all the small people you know and take them along so that – now inspired – you can play at puppets and storytelling at home with old shoe boxes, paint and used toilet paper rolls.

Peter’s Theme is such a persistent earworm that it has played out, twinkling and enthusiastic, in the corners of my mind for the past five days. That’s the power of a good children’s story – it hooks into the corners of your mind, becoming one of your own. It’s one that I’d definitely like to play after turning out the lights.

Silo Theatre’s Peter and the Wolf runs from November 9 – December 9 at the Herald Theatre. Tickets available here.