Thursday, 9 August 2012

Petya and the Wolf – Assembly Roxy

If you're looking for the oddest show of the Festival, this is a strong early contender. Essentially it's two quite old-looking Russian guys moving around in a small stage-on-a-stage to an old recording of Prokoviev's Peter and the Wolf, voiced by about as plummy an English accent as you could wish to hear.

On at 10.30 in the morning, Petya... looks nominally like it might be intended as a children's show. Well, it's got a very unusual aesthetic for a kids show. Even if your child has already developed a real taste for Eastern European Poor Theatre, is a massive fan of Kantor, or the cartoons of Jan Švankmajer, they might find this pretty tough going.

To be honest, it's the kids' show slot and the use of Peter and the Wolf that really threw me. Stick this on – exactly as it stands, movement-wise – at midnight, and give it a soundtrack by Pussy Riot and you could, in all probability, have a massive Fringe-hit on your hands.

As it is, the starker-than-stark aesthetic – skinny, wiry men, with skinny, wiry props, caught between the thin beams of five micro-spotlights that claustrophobically clinging to the bars of their cage – makes for an unsettling effect, even for this only-slightly-nervous adult.

There is a strong argument to be made that I'm imposing an awful lot of cosy, Americanised, westernised ideas of what children's stuff ought to be like and being unduly nervous on their behalf. The two children present yesterday – aged five and two, max. – only seemed somewhere between un-phased and nonplussed, there were a lot of questions, then the older one just wandered off to play in a corner. It certainly didn't seem to be the stuff of months of future nightmares for them.

On the other hand; Jesus Christ. Is this what the Russians show their children for fun? Although, seeing this as a child would kind of explain why you'd end up making a show like this for children.

Perhaps the best bit of the show is the unexpected coda. I'll confess, I have a bit of a working thesis for viewing Russian theatre – clown or otherwise – namely that it is all underpinned by an impossible sense of sadness. This show certainly did nothing to dissuade me from my absurd generalisation. Peter and the Wolf ends with a triumphal march and the freeing of an eaten duck from the stomach of the wolf. This version goes on. The Grandfather figure seems to wither, double-up and die. The other animals seem to fade away and die. And them Petya dons some very WWII-looking goggles picks up a makeshift rifle and also seems to perish.

After all, when you've got another ten minutes to fill, why would you leave a children's story on a happily ever after when you could point out that everything eventually dies and that life is hard and full of pain?

1 comment:

Andrew Cowie said...

This was the last Edinburgh show I saw this morning before coming home today and, like you, I was both intrigued and slightly spooked by it. I loved the magical transformations of scrappy props into living creatures and the shifts in scale and perspective the actors achieved within a tightly confined space but, although a few of the young people in the audience laughed occasionally, it felt more like a cautionary glimpse of the shit adult life has in store for them with no particular reassurance that they'll be OK when they get there.