Peter And The Wolf, Hackney Empire, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

There's a decent performance of Peter and the Wolf at the heart of this production, but you have to wait to get to it. This Easter show takes Prokofiev's score for children, with its tale of a boy and animals, clutters it up with a weak schoolroom prologue, then acts the whole thing out on stage.

The idea is plainly to make Peter and the Wolf more relevant to children's real lives. In the schoolroom, the adult dancers who will later play the Bird, Wolf and other characters appear as pupils. A new spoken text, written by Lori Spee, introduces them all with tooth-aching sweetness.

We're told that one boy, the class clown who becomes the ill-fated Duck, gets things wrong "but is so full of energy". The future Wolf is the local bully - but only, we are quickly told, because he thinks people won't respect him otherwise. The most patronising of these glib characterisations is the "inspirational" teacher, who is so busy reminiscing that he hardly seems to listen to the children's stories.

Those stories allow each new character to step forward for a solo. This is a dance-based show, with dances by the New-York based choreographer Doug Elkins. He mixes several styles: street dance for the Wolf, balletic/gymnastic twirls for the future Bird. Elkins misses the chance to build these character tags into real solos. The vaguely atmospheric new score, by Erik Van der Wurff, is too self-effacing to help.

The strongest onstage element is the design. Paul Gallis's set frames the stage with bare columns, the trunks of trees so tall that you can't see the branches. Windows are lowered for the schoolroom scene, but you're always conscious of the forest outside.

Prokofiev comes to the rescue in the second half. Soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Mark Stephenson, give a warm and lively performance, with some rich brass sound. Given a real story at last, Elkins and his dancers start to show more bite.

Elkins's best character is the charming Duck. Micheal Downing waggles through his dances, tilting hips against knees, knees against ankles in an appealingly boneless waddle. Craig Harrison's Wolf belts on, running up against the tree and bouncing off in frustration, missing the Bird and Cat perched in its branches. Maurizio Montis, as Peter, is allowed to drop his sugared, daydreaming schoolboy, moving with much more attack.

To 16 April (020-8985 2424)

Comments