He was my first Super Hero. Apologies to all Superman, Spiderman and Batman fans, but Peter Pan could not only fly himself, he could teach others to fly too! And he was a boy, and a cute one at that (at least in my imagination). And you didn’t really have to be in life threatening distress for him to pay you a visit. Sigh! The number of nights I waited for him to fly in through my window and teach me to fly…
While on a trip to the US of A with the parents, I found myself in Chicago two days after the opening of Peter Pan by Threesixty° Theatre. Uncannily, this was same week as the opening of our very own Akvarious’ production of it. I simply had to watch it. So, the $50 ticket notwithstanding, I dragged Mother dearest along to watch my childhood crush on stage.
Peter, the boy who refuses to grow up; guardian of the Lost Boys; arch enemy of Captain Hook; is a young boy of uncertain age who flies in through the window of the nursery of the Darling household one night and charms his way into the minds of the young children, Wendy, Michael and John. Soon, he teaches them fly and they take off on a magical journey. They fly over London, they fly over the countryside, meadows, mountains, and finally the ocean before finally landing in Neverland, home of the Lost Boys – the boys who fell out of their prams and were never claimed and hence have never really experienced the love of a mother. Peter, in all his good intentions has brought Wendy there to be their Mother. Will Wendy accept? Why does Captain Hook want to kidnap Wendy? Will Peter be able to save her? Do the Darling children ever go back home?
Yes, yes, we all know the story already… But actually seeing it in action is a whole different thing. The actors, hitched on to harnesses actually fly through the night sky, beautifully projected onto the marquee walls…
Oh wait, I need to mention here that the theatre, is actually a specially constructed marquee tent, with the stage in the centre and the audience seated on all four sides. The very top of the marquee housed a lot of techie stuff that the likes of Q, Arghya and Sananda would have had orgasms over, apart from one of those perches that trapeze artist use, for the actors to jump off of for their entries.
When they weren’t flying in from up above, the actors used the beautifully concealed trapdoors on the stage itself to make their entries. At certain places, the trapdoor would revolve to become various things like the beds in the nursery, the cavernous roots of a tree in Neverland, the staircase into the nursery from the floor below.
If these haven’t already taken your breath away (or if you are a guy) you will surely love the mermaids who creep and crawl onto the stage and shimmy ever so gracefully up and down a rope—yes, Mallakhamb it is—trying to lure Peter into their world. And then there is the Native American princess, Tiger Lily, and her highly suggestive (read pelvic thrusts) gymnastics.
Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be a children’s play? Yes, and they even have puppets to prove that. Nana the dog, the Neverbird, the croc with a clock in his belly, are all very beautifully designed puppets, deftly handled by puppeteers. Nana, in particular is such a realistic string puppet handled so well by Joshua Holden, the lead puppeteer, that in a few minutes one begins to wonder how the family deals with all the fur and the drool generated by such a big dog! The crocodile on the other hand is manned by two puppeteers sitting inside its head and stomach, again clearly visible but easily ignored as you gasp in awe at the crocodile itself.
Before this begins sounding like fan mail, I must talk about Act Two. As exciting as the first half is with all the gymnastic and surprising entries and ‘wow’ inspiring video projections, the second half starts getting a little tedious. This is when you begin noticing that though the stage is round, the actors tend to orient themselves towards a particular aisle way more than the others. And having bought my tickets in the last minute, I ended up being faced by Captain Hook’s (Jonathan Hyde) back for most part of his scenes. Add to this the slight British accent and the intermittent loss of voice projection, and I missed quite a bit of his and other actors’ lines.
This is also when you realise that the production kinda takes for granted that the audience already knows the story and so either overlooks, or rushes through quite a few details; like why the crocodile has a clock in his stomach, or what the heck Tiger Lily is doing there and why she keeps running on and off stage, thus effectively reducing them to mere gimmicks.
The Lost Boys, played by what they call the ‘American cast’, were a bit grating. There is always a very delicate line between ‘acting’ and ‘acting like’. Having said that, it is never easy for a grown man to play a child’s part. But when the aforesaid line is crossed in such a role, it gets particularly disturbing for the watcher.
Special mentions: Emily Yetter for her wonderfully bratty portrayal of Tinker Bell; Evelyn Hoskins (Wendy) for the beautifully executed transition from the exuberant little girl into a responsible mother; Ciaran Joyce (Peter Pan) – my childhood dream come true – good looking, light-footed and high-spirited, he is truly a joy to watch; The audience for the moment we brought Tinker Bell to life by proclaiming out loud that ‘We believe in Fairies!’
The play ends happily and hopefully as does the story. Peter, the boy who never grows up comes back through the window of Darling nursery years later only to find that his Wendy is much older now, and she has a daughter of her own. Disheartened, he lets out a sob when Wendy’s daughter, Jane wakes up and asks him the same question her mother did years ago, “Boy, why are you crying?” And warm and fuzzy feeling inside you comes right back.