Miriam Margolyes (character actor, Shakespearean actor, Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter film franchise) is on record as saying that she doesn’t have a great affinity with children. Indeed her rousing welcome to the Festival Theatre audience of all ages – “Ladies and gentlemen… and children” – had a touch of mischievous trepidation about it.
Nevertheless, this magnificent communicator immediately engaged each one of us from the moment she opened the book and began her narration of the four orchestral pieces on offer.
The stage had already been set with the full Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and it needed only the entrance of conductor Nicholas Carter. Then Margolyes took her seat in an armchair with accompanying standard lamp, and with everyone sitting comfortably, the evening’s story began.
The choice of Janacek’s “Cunning Little Vixen Suite” may not have been the best one to catch the attention of the young audience straight away. While Margolyes gave an expressive and eloquent introduction to the woodland sounds evoked in the piece, and Carter and the orchestra performed it beautifully, it needed some previous musical experience to connect effectively with the natural world as represented by different instruments. Many of the younger audience seemed to find the length of the piece challenging for their concentration.
Following this was Benjamin Britten’s well-known “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”, which was a rousing success. The narration gives an audience (of any age) the story of each section of the orchestra by means of a spoken rhyming couplet and a well-known musical theme by Purcell.
We reached the interval with a spirited piece of “contrapuntal fun” when the brass section returned to Purcell while the rest of the orchestra competed with different melodies and tempos.
The second half of the evening continued the momentum, with a lively and energetic set of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from “Prince Igor”.
Then the stage was set for the climax – Sergei Prokofiev’s musical setting of the story “Peter and the Wolf”. Once again, this is intended to draw the attention of younger people to the ability of different instruments to represent characters or emotions.
Here, Margolyes demonstrated her superb ability to captivate an audience. Her communication with Carter was flawless in maintaining the flow of the story and the reception for this piece was excitedly enthusiastic.
To see such an accomplished performer as Miriam Margolyes, together with the wonderful Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under the direction of their skilled and animated conductor, is a rare privilege – whether you are six or over 60.
Peter and the Wolf was presented at the Festival Theatre as part of the Adelaide Festival program. Its season has now ended.