The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Martin Suckling’s brand-new musical adventure premiered at the Southbank Centre this weekend, ably performed by Aurora Orchestra (under Geoffrey Paterson’s baton) and brought to life by presenter/narrator Zweyla Mitchell Dos Santos. It’s safe to say this one is destined to become a classic.
The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse is an irreverent yet edifying family show, based on the much-loved children’s story by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen that centres around a mouse, who finds itself in the stomach of a wolf, where it meets a duck. The two unfortunates forge a friendship and find a joyful acceptance of their plight (via duping the wolf into eating whatever they fancy – from cheese to table candles and wine). The production takes a similar route to Peter and the Wolf, with particular instruments representing characters (the piccolo for the mouse, the cor anglais for the duck, the trombone for the wolf and the bassoon for a hunter), and recurring motifs foregrounding narrative points.
Aurora were in typically sparkling form, bringing energy, consummate skill and fun as they functioned as both musicians and convincing actors. (Special mention is due to the violist, who, while he didn’t have a theatrical role, was foregrounded in the texture and brought beautifully warm tone and finesse.) Mitchell Dos Santos’s effervescent presentation was masterful, the relative newcomer needing few words to keep her young audience absolutely rapt. She was aided by the production’s clever structure (happily also just the right length): the opening section encouraged viewers to take part in creating the sound of the forest, each area of the hall contributing a different noise that was rhythmically layered over the next to surprisingly evocative effect; a dance interlude was included around halfway through, with simple choreography taught in time to the orchestra to give the little ones a breather and get any wriggles out. Both were repeated later on, the finale bringing a triumphant return of the dance that sent everyone off with smiles on their faces.
The atmospheric score is engaging in itself, a combination of contemporary, ambient sequences and quirkily melodic, almost neo-Classical passages. Aurora’s musicians were arranged less traditionally than they might be for a standard orchestral concert, allowing for enough space for the scripted performers to move around the stage, but equally managing to keep the instrumental families together, which made for an easy segue into an educational side note about the various timbres.
The stage design, lighting and costumes were similarly understated, but effective. A picnic table offered a focal point at which the mouse and the duck conversed, red spotlights denoting their situation in the wolf’s stomach. Klassen’s distinctive, collage-like illustrations were projected as a backdrop, coming into their own later in the story, when the mouse and the duck escape from the wolf’s stomach (and subsequently head back in again!). Costumes were minimal but served to create an endearing aesthetic (the mouse in pink dungarees with hair buns for ears, the duck in yellow wellies and waterproofs, the wolf in grey with fluffy cuffs), while also differentiating the characters.
In sum, The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse is a thoroughly enjoyable and educational show with a gentle moral message, intriguing new music that’s brilliantly performed and effortlessly captivating narration. A must-see for families with under-tens as soon as it’s staged again!
For further information and future events visit The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse’s website here.