- 06 Dec 23
Renaissance man Gavin Friday - with a bit of help from an old pal and several new ones - revisits Prokofiev’s Peter & The Wolf in aid of the Irish Hospice Foundation.
Once upon a time (2003) childhood chums Gavin Friday and Bono collaborated on an adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter & The Wolf, the beloved mash-up of fairy tale and musical lesson that the Russian composer put together in 1936 where the narrator tells the story while themes representing each character introduce the different instruments in the orchestra to young listeners.
There have been many, many adaptations in the decades since Prokofiev put pen to stave, with everyone from Mikhail Gorbachev and Bill Clinton (and, perhaps more pleasingly, Sophia Loren) to David Bowie having a go although perhaps surprisingly Friday has expressed a preference for Sean Connery’s vowel-chewing run at it with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1965. Gavin and Bono put their interpretation together as a fundraiser for the Irish Hospice Foundation. Friday wrote the text, provided the narration and, with collaborator Maurice Seezer, rearranged the score, which he had first performed with musicians from the Royal Academy Of Music. Bono, with help from his daughters, provided the artwork. His father had passed away not long before so the palliative care the Hospice Foundation provide was fresh in his mind. The book was a huge success and when the drawings were auctioned off, the Hospice’s coffers received another substantial boost.
After the rights to the original recording reverted back to Friday a few years ago, he approached BMG about re-releasing it. Company man Alistair Norbury suggested an update and an animated movie. HBO/Max and English animation house Blink got on board but we’re in a slightly different world than we were a couple of decades ago so questions were raised about the previous narrative. You can’t really kill the wolf now or put it in a zoo and what sex is this wolf anyway? Peter’s grandfather smoking a pipe? You can forget about that in 2023, although the hunters can of course still be armed. Friday began addressing these queries – during lockdown - with Stephen McNally and Elliot Dear of Blink.
The animation they’ve come up with, which is already streaming on HBO Max in the US and will likely be on terrestrial television in this part of the world this side of Christmas, will delight no matter what age you are. Bono’s initial artwork has been beautifully expanded out into a combination of 3D and 2D, retaining the punkish aesthetic – Peter still sports a Mohican – and the colour scheme of black and white with slashes of red while sanding down the more abrasive corners of his emphasis on expression over technique.
There are what could be called easter eggs for the U2 fans watching. Bono and his paintbrushes appear briefly at the beginning and end, Peter’s grandfather closely resembles the late Bob Hewson, and the fly shades have been taken off the boy and placed on a new character, the suitably named Gavin Flyday. This Jiminy Cricket by way of a Berlin nightclub is an actual fly complete with the requisite eyewear and it is he who delivers Friday’s gloriously plummy narration – he’s served some time with the Royal Shakespearean Company – which is a joy, suitable for younger listeners, but still retaining a soupçon of the risqué. If he ever craves a change in direction, there’s a whole other lucrative career in voiceovers waiting for him.
As the project is again admirably in aid of the Irish Hospice Foundation, Friday’s new narration addresses relevant themes and both the animation and the book follow suit. It’s clear that this Peter has lost his mother. This changes how we view the wolf, represented in the earlier part of the film by Bono’s stark original drawings. It initially seems to be an imagined creature, haunting the young boy’s fractured consciousness. “Beware,” the narrator warns us, “for wolves come in many disguises.” As Peter comes to the realisation that grief is really an expression of love and something to be embraced rather than be afraid of, the image of the wolf becomes more rounded and we move towards a different ending that Friday has described as his “Ocean’s 13” sleight-of-hand.
A new recording ‘There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of’ that plays over the end credits – the original score with the updated narration has been released separately – and the book, now comprised of beautiful stills from the animated film, further emphasise the message that lies at the heart of the project. By facing his fears and entering the forest to confront the wolf, the darkness, and the unknown, Peter realises that loss and grief are a part of life that we don’t have to face alone, which is what the Irish Hospice Foundation are all about. They are there to “ensure that every person can die and grieve well, whatever their age and wherever they are.”
The loved ones we’ve lost are never truly gone as long as we remember them. There is nothing to be afraid of.
Peter & The Wolf by Gavin Friday is available from all good booksellers now and would make the perfect Christmas present for everyone you know. Proceeds go to the Irish Hospice Foundation.