by Lynn on June 7, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Written by Rick Elice (based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson)
Music by Wayne Barker
Direction by Jackie Maxwell
Movement by Valerie Moore
Musical Direction by Ryan deSouza
Designed by Judith Bowden
Lighting by Kevin Lamotte
Starring: Kate Besworth
Charlie Gallant
Patrick Galligan
Martin Happer
Graeme Somerville
Jenny L. Wright
Shawn Wright

Peter and the Starcatcher is a raucous, hilarious, energetic pre-story to Peter Pan.

The Story. Lord Aster and his daughter Molly are sailing to the Far East. Lord Aster has a secret mission to take a chest full of valuable stuff and secretly destroy the contents. For her safety Lord Aster puts Molly on another boat also going to the Far East. Unbeknownst to Lord Aster is that on the other boat is an identical chest full of sand. On that boat is a group of orphans who are friendless except for each other. One doesn’t even have a name. He’s just called boy. He’s impish, impetuous and doesn’t know how to swim.

Molly gets to know the orphans, or lost boys as they are called, and tries to take charge and lead them. Boy says that girls can’t be leaders. Boy is a man of his time—he can’t swim but he can perpetuate the narrow-minded view of the time regarding girls-women.

The captain of Molly’s boat is a mean bully of a man called Slank. There are also pirates lead by a pun-speaking, moustachioed man called Black Stache. And there’s a crocodile that swallowed a clock so you hear him/it ticking when he gets near. And of course with two identical chests they get switched deliberately. Sneaky goings on, go on.

And so we see the beginnings of Peter Pan in Boy and his fellow orphans the lost boys, Wendy in Molly, and Captain Hook in Black Stache.

The Production. Designer Judith Bowden has created a set evocative of a ship/boat of worn wood, lots of ropes and the suggestion of sails. There are hiding places into which the boys crawl and overhear.

The show is beautifully, imaginatively directed by Jackie Maxwell, with evocative movement by Valerie Moore. We get the sense of the boat tossing in a storm by the stylized movement of the cast as they sway and lurch. In scenes on land there is a dandy suggestion of a rushing river. People on either side of the stage hold two ropes spanning the stage. They flutter the ropes in the air and the result suggests a fast running river that Boy and Molly have to cross. Remember he can’t swim. She can. Boy gets lost in the ropes, suggesting he’s drowning. She saves him.

The boys are energetic as they scurry around the ship and Molly follows right after them. While they staunchly believe that only boys can lead, the boys do have a grudging respect for Molly. As played by Kate Besworth, Molly is diminutive but supremely confident. She is a girl who has been encouraged and supported by her doting father ( a beautiful performance by Patrick Galligan as Lord Aster) to believe that she can do anything she sets her mind too. After all she is the ‘starcatcher’ in the title. Besworth is not so much bossy as sure of herself and the correctness of her decisions. She is forthright, sweet, not afraid to beat a boy at anything and proud of it. The boys soon learn that. She has a touch of the maternal about her as she takes the boys under her wing, especially Boy.

As Boy, Charlie Gallant is boyish—really, direct, and brave but wary. And he has the wonderful ability to learn from a girl. That aspect of him is especially endearing.

Black Stache is played by Martin Happer with panache, perfect timing for every joke, and a bumbling charm. And we see how Black Stache, the future Captain Hook, actually lost his hand and got a hook. It involves a trunk with an open top and an overly rambunctious reaction by Black Stache to banking it shut. His reaction when he loses his hand, is worth the price of admission. The acting to a person is terrific.

Comment. While Peter Pan is a rather sweet play for kids, mostly, Peter and the Starcatcher has a broader appeal. It certainly has great appeal for kids—I noticed lots of kids in the audience and they loved it. But Peter and the Starcatcher is also geared towards an adult audience. It’s full of wit, clever puns, wonderful high jinx, lots of physical humour, and some sobering commentary on men/women relations—I mean really, girls can’t be the leader, it’s always got to be a boy? Think that over again, mate.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a smart, funny production that imagines where Peter and Wendy really came from. It’s perfectly described in the program as “taking place in the glorious space between reality and your imagination.”

I loved it and would see it again.

The Shaw Festival Presents:

Run: Plays to Novmeber 1, 2015
Cast: 12; 10 men, 2 women
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes.

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