Father Nandru and the Wolves at Wilton’s Musical Hall
Hidden away down a backstreet, ten minutes from Shadwell station, sits the picturesque Wilton’s – the world’s oldest surviving music hall. One of London’s most unique artistic sites, Wilton’s started out life as a humble ale house in 1743. A concert room was added the following century until the 1850s, when it finally graduated to the status of “magnificent new music hall”. At the same time John Wilton took over the business and freshened up the decor, adding chandeliers, mirrors and intricate paintwork.
The venue certainly retains many of its gilded fixtures but has been left to age, so that the walls are peeling and the façade bares the thin remains of numerous paint jobs. At the windows, damaged wooden shutters add to the sense of the southern gothic that permeates the place and continues inside, at the saloon-like Mahogany Bar.
The hall itself is small – chairs are squashed in to make for a cosy audience and not far above heads there suspends a balcony. The original Indian-inspired painting remains faintly on the far wall, giving the space a spiritual feel – indeed, it is not unlike a small church. This is fitting as the play currently running here is set in a Transylvanian village, the centre piece of which is a log church where the villagers worship daily.
Father Nandru and the Wolves, written by prolific playwright Julian Garner, tells the story of facially disfigured Eveline, a young girl who elopes with the crippled dancer Vadim in a scandal that shakes the village. Meanwhile, the alcoholic but well-meaning priest, Father Nandru, is being visited by prophesising wolves who warn him of an imminent danger approaching the community.
Told using a mixture of actors, musicians, a range of puppets and shadow puppetry, the play is a real feast for the eyes and ears. What is especially striking is the playful variety of scale – the villager puppets are hand-held sizes, but the wolves are huge grey masses of fur, inside which are buried two actors each. At one point, two giant puppets are used to represent the couple on their wedding day, and are at once fantastic and a little scary.
Overall, the show is hugely enjoyable and suitable for all ages. It also makes an unusual alternative to the city’s more traditional theatrical offerings, which is emphasised when experienced within the walls of the beautiful and historic Wilton’s, breathing new life into old-style entertainment.
Photos: Stephanie Wolff
Father Nandru and the Wolves is on at Wilton’s Music Hall until 18th April 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Father Nandru and the Wolves here: