Wilton’s Music Hall is proud to call itself ‘The City’s Hidden Stage’ and rightly so – this unique theatre is tucked away just minutes from Tower Bridge and is one of the most stunning theatre spaces London has to offer, all high ceilings and period features. Sadly, though, the venue is the main highlight of the night: Julian Garner’s new play ‘Father Nandru and the Wolves’ is not quite enough to eclipse the atmosphere and beauty of its surroundings.
From the beginning it looks promising. Hanne Horte-Garner’s design is quirky and even spectacular in places. The audience are greeted by an energetic gypsy band before being plunged into the world of Father Nandru (Jonathan Stone), an unlikely (and alcoholic) priest with a congregation of outraged puppets and visiting giant wolves to contend with. The wolves are particularly menacing, prowling among the audience and howling loudly. This folk tale has a decidedly dark edge for a piece of children’s theatre, playing against the apocalyptic backdrop of an eastern-European dictatorship and dabbling with some very deep themes.
While there is certainly a lot to be enjoyed – such as fun dancing goats, a touching love story between two outcasts, and lovely lessons about the importance of community and the evils of prejudice – there are many problems with this play. The cast stumble over Garner’s clumsy rhyming script, a lot of which could be cut to make the first half drag less. A few of the musical interludes seem unnecessary, though they do give Samantha Arends plenty of opportunity to showcase her talents. But the shadow puppetry is magical and, for all its failings, there are a few moments in ‘Father Nandru and the Wolves’ that are completely ingenious.
Overall ‘Father Nandru and the Wolves’ feels muddled and style is definitely prioritised over substance. There is just too much going on here to feel anything but erratic as Garner throws out a lot of ideas but sadly neglects their development. However, the play is certainly offering something different and is packed with potential, even if it isn’t quite realised in this production. Children will probably love ‘Father Nandru and the Wolves’ but audience members seeking coherence and a play that really says something comprehensible as well as looking pretty should probably look elsewhere.