'Father Nandru and the Wolves' – Wiltons Music Hall
Energetic and energising, visually exciting, suffused with gypsy music and folk romance and legend, with a strong story told by a strong cast of actors, musicians and expressive puppets well-manipulated (rear-operated): 'Father Nandru and the Wolves' offers an evening to remember.
It shows a small village community in Transylvania and their quite petty concerns and quarrels (facially deformed girl ill-treated by her father finds love with a lame gypsy despised by both said father and the villagers), which is suddenly transformed by the looming presence of enormous wolves, spirit presences only recognised as harbingers of extreme danger by the village priest. He is a good, unhappy man too fond of his drink, and in his stupor he alone can see the giant wolves. They are warning him of “the end of the world”: the coming destruction of his parish and his church.
It is tempting to tell you what happens when government forces arrive with their vast instruments of demolition – much of it communicated with shadow puppetry – especially as the story is said to be true, but surprise is at the heart of good theatre.
I am especially enthusiastic about three elements of the show: the set and puppet design by Hanne Horte-Garner, the performance of Samantha Arends whose presence, singing voice (I could hear every word!) are of the highest order and Lori Hopkins for her sublime puppetry skills. The other lead performer/puppeteers, Francis Wright, Stewart Fraser and Melissa Stanton, are all to be congratulated too. Jonathan Stone as Father Nandru lent an intriguingly vague aura to the character, but allowed his voice to drop too often.
Rousing gypsy music plays throughout the show: three brilliantly talented musicians of the Csergö Band are unforgettable, and indispensible to the exotic atmosphere.
‘Father Nandru and the Wolves’ is written in unobtrusive verse by Julian Garner, who knows how to write for a visual theatre. The dialogue flows easily, and is witty and sometimes funny: he explained it to the cast as “proto-rap”, after which the actors took to it “with gusto”. Garner describes it as a “mummers’ play for the twenty-first century”.
It is worth forking out £3.50 for a copy of the text, a booklet which doubles as an informative programme. See it if you can: it ends, alas, on the 15 April.
'Father Nandru and the Wolves'
Wiltons Music Hall