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The Tsarevich and the Wolf, Etcetera Theatre

Presented by Tree Folk Theatre

Pros: Ethereal, old-worldy and cute as can be.

Cons: The overall energy needs cranking up a notch or two and the story drags in places.

Our Verdict: Far from perfect but full of gorgeous quirky details and some very nice storytelling.

Courtesy of Tree Folk Theatre

Sometime around the mid-1800s, a folklorist named Alexander Afanasyev set about collecting, recording and publishing an anthology of traditional Russian folktales and fairytales. Prior to this work, very little effort had been made to preserve such stories making Afanasyev a very important figure in the history of Russian secular literature. His volume of over 600 tales has inspired some of the world’s most beautiful music from Stravinsky’s Firebird to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snow Maiden. A number of these stories also form the narrative in many famous works of opera and ballet.

Tree Folk Theatre are a brand new company focused on bringing folklore to the masses through storytelling, masks, puppetry, movement and song. The Tsarevich and the Wolf is a charming tale from Afanasyev’s collection and it is very fitting that Tree Folk have chosen this little gem as their theatrical debut.

The story begins with a Tsar, his three sons and a covetous little firebird who is intent on stirring up trouble. Hidden inside the palace walls lies a magnificent garden filled with magical trees and plants. The most precious and rare of all is a beautiful tree bearing apples of pure gold. One day the Tsar notices that a golden apple has been stolen and so he orders the royal guards to patrol the gates lest the thief return. However, despite his best efforts, the Tsar discovers that yet another golden apple has disappeared. He learns that a firebird is the guilty culprit and, calling his sons to him, the Tsar declares that the Tsarevich who succeeds in capturing this bird will become heir to his Tsardom. And so the adventure begins.

Parts of this show were remarkably sweet. The live vocal soundscapes, particularly during the forest scenes, were so delightful and convincing they made the recorded sound seem comparatively dull and obsolete. Plenty of similarly gorgeous whimsical moments were woven throughout the story making me giggle and sigh in equal measure. One of the most effective aspects of this play is the beautiful music combined with excellent singing voices, particularly from the two ladies, Alice Sillett and Amy Lawrence. Impressive too are the masterfully crafted masks, adding a strong visual aspect and perfectly complimenting the score. The costumes were suitably Russian-themed though not overly so – plain black shirts and trousers tied at the waist with red fabric. The set was non-existent putting the focus squarely on the actors and their ever important props.

The Tsarevich Ivan (a charming William Vercelli) had all the qualities of a handsome romantic lead but needed livening up a bit in order to be really convincing as a true hero. In fact, this was an occasional issue among the whole cast which I felt impinged on the show somewhat. A few of the more important moments in the story were weakened by lacklustre delivery. But… I wish to hasten back to the nice stuff. Playing the wolf was David Niman, an actor in possession of a great speaking voice – authoritative, engaging and very pleasing to the ear (phonebook recital material I should think). Another actor (and voice) worth mentioning is a lovely Welsh-accented Lee Clotworthy who played several characters throughout the show with great sweetness.

Although there is much to recommend about this charming debut, I felt it was very uneven in tone and required tightening up overall. There were a few ethereal dance sequences with scarves which became tiresome rather quickly and I found myself losing interest in the storyline on a number of occasions. A lot of the mask scenes did seem a little under-rehearsed and some of the movement within these scenes could have been choreographed with more precision for greater dramatic effect.

The art of storytelling is as old as time itself and Tree Folk’s aim to keep these stories alive through their work is a very honourable task indeed and one which deserves continued support. The Tsarevich and the Wolf is a beautiful, compelling story and a merry debut from a company I hope to see a lot more of in the future.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Tsarevich and the Wolf runs at the Etcetera Theatre until 6th September 2012.
Box Office: 020 7482 4857 or book online at http://www.etceteratheatre.com/index.php?id=2

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