Peter Pan – stardust forever at Circa Theatre

Circa Theatre presents:
PETER PAN – the pantomime

Adapted from J.M.Barrie’s play “Peter Pan” (1904)
and novel “Peter and Wendy” (1911)
by Pinky Agnew and Lorae Parry

Cast: Gavin Rutherford (Katie Pie) / Cary Stackhouse (Peter Pan) / Camilla Besley (Wendy)
Simon Leary (Mr. Darling, Captain Hook)
Bronwyn Turei (Mrs.Darling, Xena Lily, Tinker Bell, Areffa Plankton)
Jeff Kingsford-Brown (Winston, Smee) / Ben Emerson (Dunnie)
Manuel Solomon (Nana, Hone)

Production: Director – Susan Wilson
Musical Director/Arranger – Michael Nicholas Williams
Set Designer – John Hodgkins
Lighting – Jennifer Lal
Costumes: Sheila Hoton
Musical staging- Leigh Evans

Circa Theatre (Circa One), Wellington
Saturday, 18th November, 2017

(until 23rd December, 2017)

Now here was fun heaped up in spadefuls onto classic, tried-and-true fantasy with a splendid pantomimic treatment of J.M.Barrie’s play “Peter Pan: the boy who wouldn’t grow up”, beloved of generations over a century of years. Writers Pinky Agnew and Lorae Parry, in their first-ever pantomime, managed to give us all the trappings of the art-form – music, slapstick comedy and topical jokes – while maintaining enough of those iconic links with the original story to cast a distinctive aura over the high-speed happenings of the fantastical plot.

Barrie’s 1904 play itself had high-pantomimic aspects involving audience participation, principally to do with the fairy character Tinker Bell, who, at one stage of the story drinks poison intended for Peter, and whose survival is “thrown over” to the audience’s children, when they are told that if they believe in fairies, Tinker Bell’s life will be saved. Here, the children were invited to the stage to add physical presence to their voices in their bid to “save Tinker Bell”, with heart-warming results, doubtless generating many a precious lasting memory within those ultra-receptive minds.

Being the “state of the nation” animals that they are, writers Agnew and Parry adroitly spiced the tale’s context with a handful of social and political observations, mostly delivered by the superb Gavin Rutherford as “Katie Pie”, the pantomime Dame with a distinctly Aro Valley Girl flavour, acquainting us with her hand-to-mouth existence in struggling to cope with her landlord’s putting up the rent, but crossing the haves/have-nots divide with aplomb as a harbour-ferry-travelling nanny to the children of a Days Bay household, the Darling family, on this particular evening Mr and Mrs being dinner guests of self-proclaimed right-wing radio and TV presenter Mike Hoskings.

Intriguing separate realities kicked in with the disclosure of the identity of Katie Pie’s landlord, none other than the rapacious, wheedling Captain Hook himself, his character at one point reinforced by way of some slightly miscalculated by-play involving an eponymous right-handed appendage – “Have we “hooked” up somewhere before?” – getting caught in Katie Pie’s dress in what I thought was a somewhat gratuitously-emphasised manoeuvre ….or was the snag accidental, and the near contortionist byplay a resourceful rescue operation? – we’ll never know!

Simon Leary bestrode the thinly-veiled “divide” between quasi-respectable, portfolio-clad predatory landlord, and out-and-out pirate, his Captain Hook extravagant of manner and resplendent of garb, displaying a veneer of heroic stylishness barely concealing impulses of cruelty criss-crossed with slash-strokes of memories of ticking clocks and crocodile’s jaws!

Another byplay was Jeff Kingsford-Brown’s “Winston Tweeters” cameo, the ferryman who here silenced the imagined vocal efforts of any number of Venetian gondoliers, with his spirited ditty “Hop in the waka / and give ’em a shocker”. From such appearances, Kingsford-Brown’s morphing into the piratical Smee, Hook’s right-hand (!) man, was an utter delight, particularly his brigandish rendition of Herman’s Hermits’ ‘”I’m into something good” as the chemistry between him and Katie Pie lit up in spectacular waves of bi-partisan emotion.

Perhaps the evening’s most varied high-octane output of on-stage energies came from the multi-talented Bronwyn Turei,  introduced firstly as Katie Pie’s daughter, the warrior princess Xena Lily, but reconstituting herself as Mrs Darling, the socialite mother of Wendy and baby Michael, before slaying youthful hearts in the aisles as the jealous and possessive, but fiercely loyal and courageous Tinker Bell , in deadly danger after swallowing poison to save Peter, her only true love. It remained for her to summons a kind of mermaid chorus line as backing for “Areefa Plankton” in yet a further oceanic surge of irrepressible song-and-dance energy.

Both Cary Stackhouse’s Peter Pan and Camilla Besley’s Wendy exuded youthful wholeheartedness, Stackhouse’s wide-eyed, open-faced “child of nature” aspect made a perfect foil for Camilla Besley’s equally fresh though more feet-on-the-ground Wendy, as determined in her own way as her more artless, unfettered companion. Each required a bit more vocal heft in places, but made up in physical directness what their work was wanting in sheer volume of voice – as both were newly graduated students each could reasonably expect further developments as their respective voices matured.

Completing the cast were the two Lost Boys, played by Ben Emerson and Manuel Solomon, the latter also contributing some energetic routines doggy-style as the Darling’s pet dog Nana. These were thinly-disguised representations of recently-ousted “lost” parliamentarians, here named “Dunnie” and “Hone” respectively, their singing and dancing bursting at the seams with stylish gusto – I can’t resist enjoying once again their “moment” of confession at bringing Wendy to earth with their arrows on her arrival in Neverland, with the plaintively-sung words,”Twang! Twang! – we shot her down!”

I must confess that, for me, part of the fun of shows like these is the clever reworking of new lyrics into familiar classic “hit” tunes – somehow it contributes to the “outrageous” aspect of the show, the above instance a rib-tickling example for me. Michael Nicholas Williams’ arrangements and on-stage realizations held us in thrall throughout, however popular or otherwise the material – in one instance near the beginning we were dizzyingly tangoed, murder-mysteried and balladed through the magic portals of Xanadu in what seemed like a series of rapidly-drawn breaths, along an exhilarating musical ride.

Everything made eye-catching use of colour (Hook’s costume in particular a visual treat) mobility (the stage readily doubled as either oceanic or harbour waters on which boats could pursue their course, and crocodiles could swiftly stalk their prey) and spectacle (a wonderful cosmic realization as Peter and Wendy fly through the starry divide and into Neverland – all credit to Sheila Horton’s costumes, Jennifer Lal’s lighting and John Hodgkins’ evocative and flexible sets. With Leigh Evans’ rapid-fire deployment of the actors’ choreographic energies, and Susan Wilson’s judicious hand on the show’s pacing and dynamic variations, we in the audience were literally kept on the boil throughout.

Cast and production team deserve every success with this show – no better gauge of entertainment effectiveness was provided by my next-seat fellow audience member (a prominent Wellington composer), whose laughter rang out more-or-less continually at the moments-per-minute parade of risible enjoyment to be had from this delightful “Peter Pan”.

See also reviews at Theatreview –

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