DIRTY BEASTS and other stories

Oliver Hancock – Three Tolkien Miniatures / Paul Patterson – Rebecca / Little Red Riding Hood

Martin Butler – Dirty Beasts

Nigel Collins (narrator), Diedre Irons (piano)

ZEPHYR – Bridget Douglas (flute), Robert Orr (oboe), Robert Weeks (bassoon), Phil Green (clarinet)

with: Vessa-Matti Leppanen (violin), Rowan Prior (‘cello), Patrick Barry (clarinet), Mark Carter (trumpet),

David Bremner (trombone), Leonard Sakofsky (percussion), Emma Sayers (piano)

New Zealand International Festival of the Arts

Wellington Town Hall

Saturday, 7th March 2010, 2pm

Music, theatre and story together provided diverting entertainment for an enthusiastic audience of children of all ages at the Town Hall, with something for everybody, young and old and somewhere in between. These settings of different generations of cautionary tales for children by contemporary composers were brought to life by narrator Nigel Collins, with vivid and colourful support from some of Wellington’s finest musicians, some of whom were, at times, tantalisingly difficult to recognise in their various costumes.

A pity the staging of this presentation wasn’t ideal, with the Town Hall platform built out as a smallish square onto which the performers crowded, the musicians in a rather tight and inwardly-looking semi-circle that didn’t help generate enough performer-and-audience contact – we weren’t sufficiently encouraged by the arrangement to project ourselves into the music-making spaces. What it meant was that Nigel Collins and his cohorts had to work all the harder to draw their audience in and enable that fusion with fancy and imagination which makes for memorable theatrical (and musical) experiences. And, if the stage was too small, the venue itself was too big, the empty spaces not allowing that sense of intimacy and involvement between and with all those present, performers and audience members.

This said, the energies and skills of the performers kept up the flow between platform and auditorium – of course, the “nature of the beast” meant that there would possibly be a few surprises in store, everything seeming to be somewhat outside the parameters of a “normal” concert-going experience, which was itself an enticing prospect. The performers certainly entered into the spirit of the entertainment, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves – as did the audience, a few “drop-offs” apart (which is par for the ‘children-entertainment’ course, I would expect).

Nigel Collins’ appearance as The White Rabbit was the occasion for great mirth, though I thought the section describing the predatory habits of wolves, vividly illustrated by the musicians though it was, elongated the somewhat arch Roald Dahl story of Little Red Riding Hood overmuch in Paul Patterson’s setting. Even the narrator’s gorgeously dipsomaniac Grandma didn’t rescue the retelling from its longueurs (partly the author’s fault), though the denoument, with a very modern Miss Riding Hood conquering all, finally got things moving (and I loved the epilogue’s Facade-like strains accompanying Miss Hood’s parading of her wolf-skin coat). Oliver Hancock’s Three Tolkien Miniatures was next, the wind players, helped by some magical piano-string activations, marvellously evoking the dark expanses of the Forest, with its gradually-burgeoning alarms and horrors recalled by the Tolkien poems, focusing upon both Middle-Earth and pre-Hobbit characters.

Paul Patterson’s Rebecca (who slammed doors for fun and perished miserably) brought to mind for those with long enough memories a different, somewhat more punitive era of child-rearing. Projected with a deliciously awful French accent by Nigel Collins, the “contes de fée noir” came to life with the help of the deliciously disguised Emma Sayers on piano and Lenny Sakofsky contriving percussive noises, the latter making excruciating sounds with a number of balloons after releasing a brace of helium-filled ones (an opportunity for child-involvement missed, there, I thought). Nigel Collins mixed up a couple of words in the excitement surrounding the unfortunate eponymous heroine’s demise, but it all added suitably to the furore, which became nicely funereal towards the end (apart from a rogue balloon leaving its mark on the proceedings, doing what balloons do best).

Last was Martin Butler’s “Dirty Beasts”, settings of Roald Dahl’s somewhat nauseously crude poems depicting various interactions between animals and humans. Of the three sections I enjoyed the music for the first most of all, the spiky, chattering writing for winds readily evoking the pig’s rising panic concerning his fate and his vengeful plan of grisly retribution. Somehow the other two realisations didn’t have sufficient visceral impact to be truly memorable, the “Tummy Beast” in particular disappointing us with its refusal to explore any truly gastro-endocrinal depths in the writing – perhaps a contra-bassoon was what was lacking! Nevertheless, appetites were more-or-less satisfied, and a sense of good having more-or-less prevailed sent everybody home contented.

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