As the entire audience was being humourously threatened with “walking the plank” or “a taste of the nine” (for the usual transgressions of unscripted noises) by Captain James Hook—even before the curtain rose—the already considerable anticipation of a truly magical show was stoked even further. Children of all ages packed the Avon Theatre to fly alongside Peter Pan as he darted from adventure to adventure. No villain was too onerous for the perpetual boy’s ingenuity and pluck.
Director Tim Carroll’s love and affection for the material was clear from the opening scene. Using the conceit of having J.M. Barrie scribble down the story “write” before our eyes (with the reclusive James Kirriemuir being conjured up to bring geographical life to the beloved author’s creative mind), seemed a valid choice, setting up the recurring sight gag that paid off sharply by journey’s end.
The numerous visual effects were more hit than miss. It’s always a special joy to see humans take flight in the theatre. A youthful-looking Michael Therriault as Peter most certainly floated with the greatest of ease, yet save and except for a marvellous tumble in the climactic fight with Captain Hook (Tom McCamus shivered many timbres and gamely soared through the fabled lines: “well split my infinitives”), the above-boards movement soon became routine.
Wendy (Sara Topham, always engaging if a touch too motherly in Neverland), John (Paul Dunn provided a hilarious take on Father) and Michael (in the reverse tradition of Shakespeare, Stacie Steadman played the youngest member of the Darling brood) sailed into the rafters with happy abandon, only to be forced to crawl back into their bedrooms, perhaps weighted down with too many of the Lost Boys who also rolled over the upper-middleclass sill and into an adoptable life.
Tinker Bell, the sauciest fairy of them all who’d do anything in her powers to thwart the budding romance between Peter and Wendy, was but a flickering light whose metallic voice (rendered by bells and percussion) seemed too heavy by half for the slight spirit. A few stage appearances by One Man Band (the multi-talented Henry Zielinski was great fun to observe as he wrestled with the temperamental drum/cymbal gear while fiddling up a storm) and Allistar Gaskin’s delightful tuba commentaries from the pit were a resounding credit to composer/conductor/performer Claudio Vena.
In many ways, the animals outshone their human and mermaid counterparts. Jay T. Schramek as Nana the dog was as Disney as can be, wagging both ends energetically, rolling happily to be scratched and purposely circling a potential sleeping spot like the real thing. The Stratford elves who populate the larger-than-death crocodile kept the green monster gliding with steady progress toward the full meal (having been addicted by the right hand, from which sprung the infamous hook) of the nefarious Captain. Curious in this production was Hook’s apparent suicide into the mighty jaws of the tick-tock creature; giving up after a tiring battle didn’t fit with the blaggard’s nasty nature.
Mr. Smee, the Jolly Roger’s boatswain has an admirable proponent in Seán Cullen; the remaining pirates were an appropriately motley crew with special mention to Quincy Armorer as he brought Mullins to blood-thirsty life.
Within the Lost Boys, the Twins (Bruce Godfree and Trent Pardy) were happily at one with each other, Slightly Soiled (Shane Carty) earned everyone’s affection, Tootles (Ari Weinberg) exuded pep and loyalty, Curly (Cyrus Lane) engaged at every turn and Nibs (newcomer Richard Lee is off to a great start) rose far above his s-s-s-speech impediment.
Back home, awaiting the return of their suddenly vanished offspring, Mrs. Darling was given an ideal rendering by Laura Condlln while her medicine-avoiding husband hilariously banished himself to the doghouse thanks to Sanjay Talwar’s self-effacing skills.
Carolyn M. Smith’s sets—notably the warren-hill digs of Peter and his orphans—are models of form and function; three cheers and a yo ho ho to the Citadel Theatre for allowing the spectacularly detailed pirate ship to be moored in Stratford.
Simon Fon’s fight-design savvy worked brilliantly in the pivotal showdown while other attempts at ensemble movement (Shona Morris)—such as the dance of the pyjamas—were more rough than ready.
The youngest amongst us were generally enthused but prone to walks along the aisles or uncensored commentaries when the stage got too adult and attentions waned. If the narrative effect added a new take on well-known material, the resultant increase in runtime made for tired tots too soon. And, if the script could be trimmed as deftly as the sails, then this Peter Pan might fly into everyone’s special place for the joys of make-believe. JWR