When Sergei Prokofiev first composed Petya and the Wolf, the intent was to cultivate ‘musical tastes in children from the first years of school.’ More than seventy years later, Theatre La Pushkin’s superlative reimagining of the classic story achieves this and much more. Depicting the titular Petya and his animal chum’s canine confrontation, this is an avant garde feast for children which although flawed, cannot be criticised for sheer innovation.
Thankfully, Prokofiev’s stunning original composition and accompanying narration remain intact. A shrewd move, as these elements perfectly compliment the peculiar but captivating combination of corporeal mime and shadow play with which the company have opted to tell their tale. The lighting design in this show is beautiful; four lamps operated by two actors evoke a bewitching, whimsical atmosphere throughout, broken only by moments of taut suspense. It’s impossible not to be transfixed when you first glimpse the leering wolf, bathed in shades of deep red.
The performers themselves flitted seamlessly between the various characters, each with their own distinctive idiosyncrasies. Though Oleg Zhukovskiy’s bird - with a beak fashioned from two plastic strips- was a marvel to watch, the standout characterisation is Petya’s Grandfather, sporting a fifteen inch moustache destined to become the envy of hipsters everywhere. With facial expressions often simultaneously comical and disconcerting, you’re drawn in without feeling completely at ease. However, on occasion, the mime lacked precision and clarity, coming off a little clumsy, but the quality on display here is still ahead of the average Lecoq aspirant.
Aficionados will know that the composition is twenty five minutes long in its entirety. The running time in this version, however, is padded out to forty five by way of an arbitrary movement sequence carelessly plonked onto the end. Aesthetically, this segment was as good as anything else in the show, but being entirely abstract, it reeked of indulgence, and detracted from the experience rather than enhancing it. Put simply, it’s a shame, given the level of thought that has clearly gone into the production, that it descends into tedium in the final minutes.Dodgy ending aside, this is fringe theatre at its most inventive and infectious no matter what your age or familiarity with the source material. Go for the enchanting story, suffer the pretentious drivel.