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Arts Festival Review: Dirty Beasts & Other Stories

Arts Festival Reviews: Dirty Beasts and Other Stories

Review by Lorraine Ward

Dirty Beasts and Other Stories
Zephyr Wind Quintet, Diedre Irons and guests; narrated by Nigel Collins
Oliver Hancock: Three Tolkien Miniatures
Paul Patterson: Rebecca (who slammed doors for fun and perished miserably)
Martin Butler: Dirty Beasts
Paul Patterson: Little Red Riding Hood

Wellington Town Hall
7 March

There are many adults and many children in the Town Hall auditorium this sunny, Sunday afternoon. One of them is me, although I am never sure which category I belong to.

The Zephyr Wind Quintet and pianist Dierdre Irons enter the stage and tune up. There is much comment on their outfits. Three of the four men are wearing ties and tails, the fourth has a T-shirt designed to look like he is. The hyacinth-coloured hair of the flautist causes a flurry of admiration among the girls.

The quintet evokes the mood of the forest: eerie, creepy, mysterious. The restless children quieten, only to quicken into laughter at the entrance of the narrator dressed as a white rabbit (or is he a March Hare?).

The narrator and musicians explore the nature of the forest, and then the nature of wolves (some are stupid), before concluding that there are some animals worse than wolves, namely humans.

I am not familiar with Dahl’s work but have always enjoyed different takes on the traditional fairy tales. I loved his hard-case Grandmother, and his Red Riding Hood. More than aware of stranger-danger, this Red has trained herself to become a danger to suspicious strangers, and ends up sporting a wolf-skin coat for her efforts.

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The engagement of the children is fascinating to observe. When the narrator calls out ‘and how will the wolf get into Grandma’s house?’ one little boy mutters ‘down the chimney’. His sister hushes him with ‘no, he’ll knock on the door.’ Both fall silent when the narrator mimes pressing a doorbell. Adults and children alike erupt with laughter at the quintet’s interpretation of a wolf farting.

The next segment, ‘Three Tolkein Miniatures’, composed by New Zealand raised composer Oliver Hancock, was possibly above the heads of the younger part of our audience. Yet the narrator (now without rabbit-head) and musicians capture everyone with music and words as sonorous and soothing as a well-sung lullaby.

‘Rebecca’, a setting of Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary tale about the ‘little girl who slammed doors and perished miserably’ is next. Zanily-dressed musicians play zanily. I am delighted to find the squeaking and popping of balloons classified under percussion. When Rebecca slams her final door and is flattened by the bust of Abraham perched above it, a small voice calls out, “Is she dead?” This is Hilaire Belloc: Yes she is.

In the final segment the Zephyr Quintet return to give musical versions of three of Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts stories, with the narrator now dressed as one of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things. There is the pig who subscribes to the ‘eat before you get eaten’ policy; the Tummy Beast who is responsible for your own omnipresent hunger; and Crocky-Wock, the crocodile who considers six juicy children a suitable pre-lunch snack.

The children’s collective interest is harder to engage by this time. Yet we all walk out of the Town Hall with smiles on our faces, and an increased awareness of musicians and their instruments that can only be of benefit.

There may have been no Teddy Bears at this particular musical picnic, but we have all had some wonderful surprises.


Press releases: Classical Music Premieres at the NZIAF Chamber Music Weekend, Special Programme for Kids at the NZIAF
Arts Festival website: Dirty Beasts and Other Stories
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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