mon 21/06/2021

Peter and the Wolf, RFH | reviews, news & interviews

Peter and the Wolf, RFH

Peter and the Wolf, RFH

Suzie Templeton's masterly animation with live orchestra and witless introductory spiel

Even for a narratorless animation of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf like Suzie Templeton's obsessively detailed gem of a film, you probably only need 14 words before you can get on with the business of screening and playing. Peter: strings; bird: flute; duck: oboe; cat: clarinet; grandfather: bassoon; wolf: horns; hunters: timps. The savvy middle-class children gathered with their parents in the Royal Festival Hall yesterday afternoon had only two for actor/presenter Burn Gorman's manic clot on a bike, wheeling in to set up the background. The longer he shillyshallyed affecting to remember a dream he'd had, the more they bellowed: Peter! Wolf! Which meant, cut to the chase, let the orchestra play and the film roll.

Alas, it took a very long time, a lot of increasingly restless kids and tetchy adults before our prolix animateur was done with Southbank-sponsored poet Simon Armitage's not always audible spiel and the minimalist masterpiece could unfold. It probably wasn't Gorman's fault if he had to behave like a faux-enthusiastic children's tv host. But he got back from his restive spectators better than he gave. There was some sort of bird noise in his dream, he ruminated. It sounded just like music. "That's probably because it is music" piped one older child clearly. Conductor Mark Stephenson, Gorman/Big Peter eventually told us, could do wonders with his magic wand. "Can he make you disappear?" growled one disgruntled father, to widespread local applause.

Disappear Gorman eventually did, and the film began to work its dark magic. Five minutes of musicless unease took us into Templeton's uncompromising vision as our Russian wild child heads for the grimy city and a shabby visiting circus, only to be beaten up and trashcanned by two hunting thugs. The child next to me wouldn't look again until Peter finally unlocked the gate of his grandfather's shack onto a despoiled winter scene and the music began.

It was live from the Philharmonia, as conducted by Stephenson, but you wouldn't often have known it, as miking flattened the orchestral sound. Templeton's many years perfecting the lifelike behaviour of her broken-winged crow, daffy duck, rumpled would-be hunter cat and the wolf with the same eyes as our outsider hero had been timed to mesh meticulously with Prokofiev's extraordinarily detailed score. It does on the soundtrack, but here it wasn't always possible for the players to be in perfect synch with the snapping of the wolf or grandpa's re-locking of the gate. They did a good enough job under the circumstances, but only occasionally did the colour of a tender cello line or the miracles Prokofiev achieves from his small brass ensemble breathe a natural air.

So was there any reason to be there in the crowd, watching this perfect work of art on a big screen instead of settling down at home with the masterly DVD? It was good, at least, to share the experience of a young crowd roaring with laughter at the antics of one of cinema's most extraordinary fat felines, the bagpuss who thinks he's a tiger, though I recall Exeter Cathedral resonating with bigger peals in a screening synchronised with the local Devon youth orchestra. There, too, the first half had at least been an attempt to introduce more music, though the management had taken fright and the classics had been replaced at the last minute with a suite from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Frankly, I'd have plumped here, if pushed, for fifteen preparatory minutes of Tchaikovsky's animal sketches from Act Three of The Sleeping Beauty by way of an introduction to the narrative beauties of the orchestra and left it at that. But I'm not the Southbank artistic management, which clearly felt it had to pull out something a little different to justify more than the price of your average cinema ticket. I just wish that they hadn't; and so, it seemed obvious from the comments of my friend's children - "the film was good" - did everyone else from four to eighty-four.

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