There's a moment when the cast and crew of Silo Theatre's latest show, Peter and the Wolf, pause and look up at the ceiling of their Mt Eden rehearsal room. A bird - probably a large seagull - is casting a shadow that can be seen from the floor below and the sound of its pecking echoes throughout the former factory.

It's an eerie and enchanting effect; you can see at least one crew member filing away the image to bring out for some other show. Or maybe now because this version of Peter and the Wolf depends on imaginative thinking, flashes of inspiration, skilled puppeteers and a van-load of electronic instruments and technology.

It's the Peter and the Wolf you may remember from childhood with one of the most rousing classical music scores ever written (by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, in 1936) except it's different.

Director Sophie Roberts and musical director Leon Radojkovic didn't want to simply stage the "symphonic fairy tale" as it's been done before with a narrator - everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to David Bowie's had a go - and an orchestra.


They wanted it to be an experience as visual as it is aural. Narrators will still read - and they include Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - but the orchestra is replaced by a six-piece indie band and the forest young Peter lives close to is now an urban jungle.

In this retelling, Peter has moved from Russia to Westmere to live with his grandfather but the boy is struggling to fit in and make new friends. When he learns a wolf has escaped from Auckland Zoo, he sees it as a chance to become a hero by recapturing the animal.
Along with the band and puppets, live videography plays a major role. The audience will watch the show unfold as if they are seeing a movie being made; the whole thing is filmed in real-time and we see the moving images projected on to large screens.

"It will be like watching an animated film on stage," Roberts says. "It's not just for kids; it's a really cool show for everybody."

Roberts, Radojkovic and designers Rachel Marlow, Dan Williams and Jon Coddington have spent the better part of a year discussing concepts, formulating ideas and chucking out many of them to simplify the set, lighting, staging and filming.

Coddington, puppet-maker and puppeteer extraordinaire, has created a new style of puppet for Peter and the Wolf and there's just seven: three human characters and the duck, bird and cat who help Peter to catch the wolf. Puppeteers Ralph McCubbin Howell, Rachel Baker and Rebekah Head say the puppets are a mix of traditional marionette-style ones, controlled by strings, and push-button trigger controls they've not come across before. It makes certain movements and gestures more seamless.

Before the puppeteers were brought in, Roberts says design of the miniature sets used for filming, lighting and musical cues had to be lined up so timing could be pinpoint precise.
"We went through way more complex versions than this," Roberts says. "At one point, we thought of having a 40m, scrolling, hand-painted canvas for the background that the puppeteers would have to unroll. We also had plans for 18 puppets..."

McCubbin Howell, whose theatre company Trick of the Light makes shows using puppets, says it's a luxury to arrive in rehearsals and find most of the "hard graft" has been taken care of.

It means, two weeks out from opening night, one of the biggest concerns left was whether our newly-appointed PM and Minister of Arts (among other portfolios) would still be able to narrate for a night. "But Jacinda called us and said she was still in," says Roberts.

● Other well-known local personalities narrating a performance each are Thor: Ragnarok and Moana star Rachel House, Alison Bruce, Oliver Driver, David Fane, Michael Hurst, Nathaniel Lees, Stephen Lovatt, Cameron Rhodes, Thomas Sainsbury, Rima Te Wiata and Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

What: Peter and the Wolf
Where and when: Herald Theatre, until December 9; recommended for ages 7 and up as the wolf may be a little scary for some. Peter and the Wolf will be at the NZ Festival in Wellington, March 14 - 18