Aired on KSDS-FM on 6/2/17
RUN DATES: 5/18/17 – 6/18/17
VENUE: Cygnet Theatre
It’s a weird, wicked creation, born and nourished by sheer imagination.
In 1845, psychiatrist Heinrich Hoffmann wrote “Struwwelpeter,” or “Slovenly Peter,” as an instructive picture book for his three year-old son. Despite the sinister nature of its grisly fairy tales, where violent death is the upshot of every story, it became a best-seller.
Naughty or nasty children and a pair of abusive, neglectful parents suffer dreadful consequences for their negative behavior.
“Shockheaded Peter,” the acclaimed stage version, debuted in England in 1998, premiering in New York the next year. The show was created by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott of London’s Improbable Theatre, with original music by the British punk-cabaret cult trio, The Tiger Lilies.
Although the piece has been performed all over Europe, it’s rarely done in America, probably due to its gruesome, Steampunk-meets-Grand Guignol sensibility, peppered with German Expressionism, commedia dell’arte and cabaret.
But what’s most interesting is, the theater work itself is a mere skeleton, weighing in at a paltry 22 pages. There’s minimal narrative, but the rhymes and songs tell demented stories – about the boy who wouldn’t eat, or the ones who wouldn’t stop fidgeting, or sucking their thumbs, or daydreaming. Each of these children, in violating the rules of civilized society, meets a bloody end. That’ll teach them to obey.
With just the slim outline of a show, the production is left up to the creative team, and the piece couldn’t be served better than it is at Cygnet Theatre. Brilliance abounds – in the gleefully off-kilter set, the crazy-wild costumes, makeup, puppets and masks; the inspired lighting, sound, musical accompaniment and choreography.
Rob Lutfy, arguably San Diego’s most ingenious director, underscores the deranged, vaudevillian humor of the piece. Sarah Errington is riotous as the MC and title character. Tutu-clad Steve Gouveia, with his striking falsetto, delights in telling these ghastly cautionary tales. Lutfy skillfully showcases the gifts of his mega-talented ensemble of clowns, acrobatic dancers, a tapper and a jaw-dropping aerialist.
The show gets off to a slow start, and it’s probably not to everyone’s taste. But if you’re intrigued by the bizarre, you’ll get a bellyful of wonder, wit and cheerful depravity at “Shockheaded Peter.”
©2017 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews