You know you’ve reached your target market when your six-year-old theatre companion is captivated by what is going on stage for an entire eighty minutes with only a couple of interruptions to ask some legitimate questions. Such was the case for the opening matinee of the Carousel Theatre for Young People’s production of Peter Pan.
A near faithful retelling of the story of the boy who never grew up, thankfully, the only thing adapters Fiona Sauder and Reanne Spitzer excised is the troublesome Tiger Lily. The rest, however, remains intact. Magical fairy dust that allows the Darling children to fly, Captain Hook and his band of pirates, the Lost Boys, Tinkerbell, and even Hook’s nemesis all make an appearance.
But what sets this retelling apart from the countless others before it is in its staging. Where most productions rely on sometimes complicated stage magic, including fly wires, here the action is primarily created by the imagination of the cast (and its audience).
Under the direction of Deb Williams, some of that stage magic is indeed inventive. Whether it is actors carried by others in flying sequences or a series of trunks that become everything from an island to the jaws of a crocodile, the emphasis here is on using one’s imagination. There is something genuinely exciting about seeing large pieces of fabric that become the bow of a ship or are manipulated to represent both below and above the Mermaid Lagoon.
Beyond the props is a cast having a great deal of fun, bringing to life the world of Peter and his companions. My six-year-old theatre guest was partial to Peter (Kaitlyn Yott) and Tinkerbell (Marlene Ginader). It was Josue Laboucane’s turn as Captain Hook and Kelli Ogmundson as his sidekick Smee that had this much older kid wishing for more stage time from the duo. Doing double-duty, Ogmundson gives an equally terrific performance as the show’s narrator.
Among the favourite scenes for my young guest was Captain Hook’s demise at the hands of the crocodile, and while he couldn’t understand what Tinkerbell was saying, he knew that was how she was supposed to sound. Elements of audience participation, including a sword fight, were thrilling.
Despite a cast of eleven, which is enormous in terms of what most productions offer, like Ogmundson, many were still required to double. Thanks to a few clever costume adjustments from designer Kiara Lawson, turning the Lost Boys into Pirates was both seamless and surprising.
Set designer Shizuka Kai gives the cast an excellent playing field filled to the brim with multiple levels, trunks which transform, and even a skateboard ramp, which was screaming for actual skateboards. A miniature became both the pirate ship and the Darling’s way home, and strategically placed instruments allowed the cast to quickly access them to accompany themselves during the show’s musical numbers.
Choreographers Wendy Gorling and Amanda Testini not only do an excellent job in the small-scale musical numbers but, no doubt, have had a hand in helping director Williams move the cast in other scenes.
Often inventive, sometimes thrilling, and thoroughly engaging from start to finish, this Peter Pan is a treat for the entire family. But the final word goes to my young critic-in-training who gives it the ultimate endorsement by recommending other kids see it.
Peter Pan adapted from J.M. Barrie’s novel by Fiona Sauder and Reanne Spitzer. Music by Landon Doak. Directed by Deb Williams. A Carousel Theatre for Young People production. On stage at the Waterfront Theatre (1412 Cartwright St, Granville Island, Vancouver) until January 5. Visit carouseltheatre.ca for tickets and information.