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Russian Around! Peter and the Wolf

9 April 2017

Peter and the Wolf

A pantomime of old Russia

by Richard Lloyd (with apologies to Sergei Prokofiev)

Streatham Theatre Company, performed at The British Home, 6th to 8th April

Review by Melissa Syversen

I saw my first pantomime as an adult and let me tell you, it was love at first sight.  After that first magical encounter with Sleeping Beauty I went on what can only be described as a pantomime binge.  I saw numerous shows, read multiple books and even wrote a critical essay on the subject.  What I love about the genre is that it is simply unabashed fun.  It is a whirlwind of special effects, colourful sets, gender bending characters in extravagant costumes intermixed with song, dance and topical jokes.  It is almost like the Eurovision of theatre.  Peter and the Wolf by Streatham Theatre Company has all these qualities.  With a strong sense of teamwork, the large and diverse cast of twenty-three local amateur actors, (many drawn from the community for their first time on stage) and the creative team, they have taken on a pantomime based on the Russian Fairy-tale Peter and the Wolf.

Peter and Wolf

We find ourselves in Depravia.  The prince has disappeared and the province is instead ruled buy the evil Grand Duchess Irina Bogovski.  The duchess is in cohorts with the underworld and is in need of a fair and innocent peasant maid to be sacrificed to enhance her youth.  Her Cossack henchmen are dispatched to find her victim and bring them back to Fortress of Evasobad.  Meanwhile the village of Fishingrod is being terrorised by a wolf that is killing off their livestock.  When the Princess Ekaterina and fair peasant maid Dasha disappears, our Hero Peter Pyotrovich sets out a quest and discovers that something far more sinister than a wolf is afoot in Depravia.

Pantomime writer Richard Lloyd clearly knows his Pantomime conventions.  There are puppets, magical helpers, transformation scenes and a female principle boy.  His script is good overall and it successfully mixes pantomime tradition with the classic Russian fairy-tale.  There are many funny jokes (‘How do you spell Sharapova?’ – ‘With a great deal of difficulty!’) and character names like Vladimir Dribblesnith aka Vlad the Inhaler and the mad monk Disputin.   Unfortunately, the second act and especially the ending gets muddled and incoherent.  It was hard to grasp exactly what the moral of the whole story was.  There seemed to be three: Don’t shoot wolves, it’s ok to be afraid and the Bolsheviks and the aristocracy are just two sides of the same coin.  That last one is maybe more of a political statement then a moral one per se, but I’ll take it.  It’s a shame, because up until then the plot threads had flowed quite evenly.  Also, this might just be a personal preference, but in pantomime I would always choose redemption for the villain over horrible death.

The British home is a beautiful venue.  The stage in their theatre is a bit small and can get a bit cramped, but director Jo Otrowska solves this quite well.  She makes good use of the entire space, taking advantage of the auditorium in front of the stage.  Otrowska balances the large cast, and there are some funny sight gags.  The chainsaw especially made me laugh.  The cast give it their best.  They might not all be the strongest singers or the next Olivier, but pantomime and amateur theatre isn’t about that.  It’s about giving it a go and having fun with it and there really are moments of enjoyment and charm here.  Sonya de Souza makes a good figure as the villainous duchess, and revels in the booing.  As our hero, Peter, Sophie Lee brings a nice stage presence and has a lovely singing voice.  I do wish however that she would cut back on the teenage sarcasm and eyerolls.  It’s hard to root for a hero who answers every helpful character’s suggestions with snarky disdain.  As dame Grandmother Masha Pyotrovich, Alan Scott does a good job engaging with the audience.  The ensemble girls are charming and the entire cast brings a good energy to the group song and dance numbers.  I would advise to focus on vocal work for the next production.  The volume and diction was often low and unclear, thus a lot of text and punchlines suffered.

Musical director Aaron Nice has put together a nice array of classical Russian music and well known popular songs, like interval finale ‘Ra ra Rasputin’.  Although I will say the choice, whoever made it, of putting the song ‘I am a believer’ right after a scene where Peter says outright he doesn’t believe the wolf exists, was odd.  Credit must be given to the production team.  They have put together beautiful costumes, makeup and set design.  And working maybe hardest of all, we have technical director David Harvey.  From what I gathered, not only did he do tech, he was also in charge of confetti, the birth of a phoenix AND played the voice of underworld demon Kalashnikov!

Peter and the Wolf is not perfect, but I did enjoy it.  ‘Oh, yes I did’ … and more importantly, so did the audience.  You would be hard pressed to find more engaged children then the ones in the front row.  The audience readily joined in with the proceedings, responding with boos, songs and applause.  Fundamentally, pantomime is about coming together as a community, celebrating the local and having some laughs.  And in that regard this pantomime was indeed successful.

Melissa Syversen

April 2017

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From → Pantomime, Reviews

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