Thursday, 10 March 2011

Peter Pan On Ice - The Russian Ice Stars

Peter Pan On Ice
The Russian Ice Stars
Congress Theatre
9-13 March 2011

Show Seen 10th March

Cast: The Russian Ice Stars

Once again the team behind The Russian Ice Stars have transformed the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne into a magnificent, temporary, ice rink for their latest production, Peter Pan.

I always enjoy these shows. The costumes are lavish and colourful, the skaters are all highly skilled professionals and there is something to impress an audience member of every age group.

Impressive jumps at speed, juggling with fire, superb lifts and wonderful choreography it's all in there with so much more.

The large cast are pretty much consistent from year to year and for those of us who go every year these silent stars become very familiar faces.

Peter Pan is tackled from a different, but clever, approach. The story is seen through the eyes of the story's author, J M Barrie, who is played by the hugely talented Valdis Mintals. I thought this made a nice change from simply looking at the story being played out as it conveys, by expression and actions alone, the thoughts of Mr Barrie as his tale progresses from one chapter to the next.

Tall Valdis, who started skating at age 4, is always impressive especially with his speed and complicated jumps. However my wife who would go to see him even if he had the skating talent of Todd Carty! I really wanted to tell her she is old enough to be his mother, but she isn't (quite).

Valdis's partner between 1998-2002 in the World Championships, European Championships and many other top international competitions was Viktoriya Shklover who plays the marvellous, petite and very sweet Wendy in this production.

Pan is portrayed by Dmitri Naumkin who's accolades include winning the World Junior Championship in 1995.

My personal favourite is Ekaterina Murugova because I think she is such a brilliantly expressive performer, every expression clearly conveying thoughts and emotions. In Peter Pan she dons the wings to play Tinkerbell.

The villain, Hook, is the responsibility of Andrey Chuvilyaev. The former member of the Russian Senior team really deserved to have some kids in the audience to boo him, panto style, as he and his shipmates took great pleasure on tying young Wendy up with nice thick rope.

I love the subtle humour that is built into these productions such as Mr Darling (Denis Sorokin) who when he can't find his 3 kids even looks under a pillow (the boys are about 6' tall wearing awful brightly coloured traditional striped pajamas) the poor man clearly needs help! Or watching little Tiger Lilly (Olga Balandina)  pathetically trying to gnaw her way through 1" thick rope.

I find these shows refreshing. The one show I watch each year where you interpret a show without language. Yes in Peter Pan there is a little narration to "hand hold" those who really cannot follow a story through expression and interpretation but it is quite minimal. I think this is mainly for the benefit of any kids in attendance.

Incidentally at £4 the programme for Peter Pan is extremely good value. Wildrose Productions always produce a high quality publication that contains good photographs, cast biographies and a full explanation of what occurs in each scene. With so many programmes now priced at between £5 and £10 containing far less this is a souvenir worth buying.

So was everything perfect in Neverland? Did Tinkerbell work her magic on the feet of our all professional skaters? Well their feet seemed to be fine but she seemed to have put a curse on one particular section of the icy stage.

The very front, right section of the Congress Theatre stage must have had a problem. When one skater, perhaps two, take a fall in the same place you can put it down to bad luck and coincidence. But when the figure hits at least 5 falls and 2 very close escapes you have to wonder if there's a problem with the ice?

It must be difficult. Every stage is different in levelness and "bounce" and no matter how these temporary rinks are laid I don't think you are ever going to recreate the perfection of a purpose built rink. Even sitting where we were you can see undulations in the surface and this must have an effect.

I did notice as the show progressed jumps were being landed more centre stage rather than at the front perhaps to avoid this dodgy area?

I know the Dancing On Ice judge, Jason Gardiner, would not agree but what is important is not the falls in these shows but how professionally the recovery is. In every case if you had blinked and missed the fall you would never have known it happened. Up in an instant, smiling and on with the show as true pros do.

Probably thinking "s**t that bloody hurt!" or whatever the Russian equivalent is but never conveying that to a sympathetic audience. And sympathetic I was, particularly to the first lad who came a cropper. He was wearing little more than a loincloth as his chest thumped down on to the ice. Ouch! Waxing is probably less painful!

It does highlight ,seeing these falls, that no matter how impressive these productions are they are never a walk in the park, even for seasoned professionals.

Two shows in a day plus an additional 3 hours rehearsal time can never assure you a flawless performance. One small imperfection in the ice is all it needs to raise the audible gasps from the audience.

I'm of the opinion that when you go to see an ice show you are rarely going to get a flawless skate and it's how the show entertains overall which should be judged.

In a play if the script is forgotten or ad libbed we laugh. It doesn't stop it being a great play. When skaters fall down OK we don't laugh but it should be judged like an 'outtake' in a play.

At the end of the day we enjoyed yet another great show by the fabulous Russian Ice Stars and should they return in 2012 we'll be back again!

Spare a thought for the crew after the last show in Eastbourne on 13th March when they will be taking 7 hours breaking up all that ice and removing it from the stage only to have to do it all again at the next venue. A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes and sometimes as the audience member I don't think we always appreciate that.

Many thanks to the show's production manager, Sam Clarkson and production co-ordinator, Julian Deplidge for allowing me to get some unique views of an icy Congress Theatre stage.

Finally If you get the chance to see The Russian Ice Stars on tour please do so. Like us, with Peter Pan you may just become "Hooked"!

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