Preview: Peter And The Wolf, Hackney Empire, London E8

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The Independent Culture

Peter and the Wolf has been extended by 50 minutes to give more depth to the characters in Sergei Prokofiev's original score, first performed in Moscow in 1936. "Prokofiev's great invention was that he found a way to introduce each character with a single instrument, with the help of the narrator," says the director Douglas Fitch."Many of us remember Peter [violin section], the wolf [French horns], cat [clarinet], duck [oboe], bird [flute] and the grandfather [bassoon] manifested by music in the original, but if we take them out of that context, and introduce them as people, then who might they be?"

The new first act, set in a classroom, serves as a prequel to Prokofiev's story. The music by Erik van der Wurff is performed by 16 soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra, the text is by Richard Sparks, and eight dancers - choreographed by Doug Elkins and flitting from flamenco to break-dancing - bring a new dimension to the characters.

The schoolboy, Jack, is based on Peter, while Zoe and Francis (based on the bird and duck respectively) are twins. "It is the dynamic of sibling rivalry that connects to the bickering bird and duck in the original," says Fitch. "They are one step away from being animals in a meadow, where those characterisations are a little more abstracted." The class bully, Fritz (based on the wolf), "has his reasons for being a bully"; while the narrator, played by Roland Muldoon, the former director of the Hackney Empire, doubles as the teacher.

Fitch has designed and directed Turandot for the Santa Fe Opera using translucent scenery and A Soldier's Tale with animation for the New York Philharmonic. "I am interested in taking you back into an effortless feeling that you had as a child when you started imagining things," says Fitch. "Accessing the imaginative within us can be forgotten in adulthood. But there is no question that it is an essential aspect of making life a joy."

Tuesday to 16 April (020-8985 2424; www.hackneyempire.co.uk)

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