SIFA 2019: Peter and the Wolf by Silo Theatre (Review)
Joyous, modern take on Prokofiev’s classic that will enchant any child with the magic of theatre.
Every once in a while, amidst the darkness and grit that so much of today’s theatre is characterised by, there is a distinct need to lighten up the mood and find optimism in simple, yet powerful reminders of all that is good in the world. Presented by New Zealand’s Silo Theatre and directed by Sophie Roberts, Peter and the Wolf provides just the right dose of sunshine to counter the flood of negativity we encounter each day.
Reimagining Sergei Prokofiev’s classic for a contemporary audience, Silo Theatre’s adaptation relocates the story from Russia to modern day New Zealand, adopting the use of a six-piece live band (Music director Keib Radojkovic on keys, Adam Tobeck on drums, Peau Halapua on violin, Scott Thomas on sax, Hannah Elise on Bass Guitar and Tasman Scholes on guitar) in lieu of a full orchestra, and utilising puppetry and live animation to tell this tale of friendship, along with a live narrator. When one first steps into the theatre, one is greeted by what seems like a complicated set-up with the instruments and multiple mysterious white boxes spread across the stage. At centre stage is a digital backdrop showcasing a moonlit sky, projected and enlarged on a screen that hangs above.
But the moment the performance begins is when the magic comes to life. Narrated by Benjamin Kheng of The Sam Willows (for our performance), we are first introduced to the characters via the band, where in the same spirit as the original, each character is portrayed by a single instrument and a recurring, easily recognizable leitmotif, such as Peter by the violin or the wolf the guitar. Every character is assigned a realistically designed puppet, brought to life by the trinity of puppeteers Jon Coddlington, Debbie Fish and Rebekah Head, as they manipulate each puppet to interact with each other. The puppetry feels ridiculously natural, with each scene seamlessly segueing into the next, and smooth scene transitions helped by the digital backdrop that shifts from home to highway in the blink of an eye.
Kheng’s voice is clear, confident, and easy to listen to, adding a sense of boyish glee to his narration that would make us believe he was a grown-up version of Peter telling the tale. But perhaps the most important work of all is that of videographer Julie Zhu, who is constantly ‘performing’ with her video camera throughout the show, with the feed projected on the screen above, alternating with the feed from a static video camera that instead projects the puppetry performance. Over the course of the performance, the white boxes we saw onstage each reveal themselves to contain beautiful, intricately designed miniature sets by Daniel Williams, which Julie actively pans over or zooms in on to immerse audiences in this tiny re-creation of New Zealand, pure elation as we ‘fly’ over parks or trepidation as we wind through darkened alleyways.
In terms of the storyline, there is much glee to be gained from seeing the playful interactions of the characters with each other, be it the introduction of Peter, dressed in a red hoodie and even giving us a dab, or the way the larger than life Wolf makes his first, terrifying appearance, not as a full puppet, but as a furred paw. Being the child friendly fable it is, Peter also actively seeks not to hunt down the wolf, but to understand it, creatively incorporating quintessentially New Zealand elements such as the exotic feijoa fruit, and eventually, finding common ground in their shared loneliness that leads to a surprisingly happy ending.
In all, Silo Theatre has more than successfully updated this symphonic fairy tale for the modern audience, each innocent scene a joy to watch as it plays out before us, bringing us on a colourful journey through this imaginative interpretation of New Zealand. One cannot help but leave the theatre with a spring in their step and feeling a little lighter than before, and imbued once again with the renewed hope in humanity, and the power of friendship (and puppetry).
Performance attended 18/5/19 (3pm)
Peter and the Wolf runs from 18th to 20th May 2019 at the KC Arts Centre. Tickets available here
The 2019 Singapore International Festival of the Arts runs across various venues from 16th May to 2nd June 2019. For more information and the full lineup of shows, visit their website