CLASSICAL MUSIC IS not necessarily something that the average child imbibes with their mother’s milk. Serious composers of the ilk of Benjamin Britten, Camille Saint-Saëns and Sergei Prokofiev, amongst others, were proactive in their day, addressing this scenario, in ways that filtered boldness and magic, humour and fantasy into a soundscape performed by real instruments. And serious musicians. It’s music nursery school that sows golden seeds for the tiniest of tots.
But that was many decades ago, you may argue. Indeed, in 1936 Prokofiev was commissioned by a children’s theatre to make what is today arguably his most defining piece of music, Peter and the Wolf. But if you’re five and you’ve never heard the voice of the clarinet and how it confronts an oboe, to say nothing of what makes a flute the perfect instrument to describe a bird’s voice, it’s total magic.
Even if you’re not five and you know the tunes that describe the different moments in the work well, there’s a goosebump-raising level of nostalgia that is simply delightful, carried as it is by the music itself. Under the directorial pen of Elizma Badenhorst, the story has been reworked around political correctness and values of kindness, empathy and goodness. No one dies here. And while a seasoned Peter and the Wolf groupie may baulk at the idea of blood not being shed in the tale, and a soft-soaping of the original sequence of events which even sees the hunters being loved back into the social fold, the success of the work is less about the story itself than its engagement with the littlies in the audience.
Traditionally, there’s an introductory overture to the piece which includes a carefully worded explanation of how the different instruments represent different characters in the piece, from the violin which is Peter to the French horn which is the ominous Wolf. But the creative team here takes it one step further, and after the tale is told, Peter turns to the young audience and asks who remembers what. The children get the opportunity to ‘play’ real music on a cardboard instrument, and magical seeds get instantaneously planted in their sense of possibility.
Featuring innovative and convincing use of puppetry, a maverick use of scale and tweaks and shifts to the original story, Peter and the Wolf at Montecasino is something fresh and new. It will open theatre doors to a generation of children who may have not known where to knock, until now.
- Peter and the Wolf is written and composed by Sergei Prokofiev and directed by Elizma Badenhorst. Featuring musical arrangements by Wessel Odendaal and set design by Francois van der Hoven, it is performed by Naret Loots, Angela Sparks and Justin Jay-Steezy Swartz, at the Studio theatre, Montecasino complex, Fourways, until October 21. Call 011 511-1988.