There’s a certain magic to the sort of intense game of dress-up that sometimes transpires in family homes during the holidays.
A band of cousins, brothers, sisters and aunts grab costumes and some toys out of a trunk and concoct a play. Whatever is missing is made up for in imagination, as anything that’s fun and silly can and will happen, as the audience watches from couches and love seats.
The ECHO Players production of Peter Pan captures that same enthusiasm, but adds a huge cast of talented young folk, (including the young at heart), inventive use of stage and props, physical comedy, delightfully pulled faces and a message worth sending out into the world.
The first hint of just what sort of production the audience is watching comes as Mr. and Mrs. Darling (played by Luke Sales and Airlie Pinkerton) enter the nursery. Wendy and John (played by Megan Handley and James Miguel) have just finished a sword fight ending in John’s demise, but their parents turn out to be just as childish.
Melodrama abounds as the Darling’s pull faces and Mrs. Darling tells a fantastical tale of seeing a young boy losing his shadow in the room a night or two ago, literally re-enacting parts of the escapade.
If anything, Wendy seems to be the voice of reason, later chiding her father over refusing to take a spoon of medicine to show the youngest child, Michael (played by Lina Janeski) that he must take his medicine. Ayanna Anderson does a great job playing Nana the dog (a role she will share with Lyra Sales), while Sue Packer as Liza the maid also gives a strong performance.
The playful antics only get sillier as Peter Pan himself (played by Ashlee Sales) makes his appearance. Ashlee does well playing the confident, ignorant boy who knows only games and always find a way to win (or convince himself he’s won) and have fun.
The Lost Boys and the Pirates are a whole other layer of goofy. All nine Lost Boys (played by boys and girls) seem to be in their element, performing Neverland playtime as if they’re out on the playground at recess. Sam David and Elena Sales (playing Tootles and Nibs) get a fair number of lines and do well in their roles, both getting to showcase other talents in the show as well.
The Pirates joyfully take to childhood antics of the adult, though juvenile rapscallions.
Alistair McVey plays Smee, faithfully parotting back the captain’s orders, and adding a dryer humour to the affair. Ben Rosnau performs as Sickly, and communicates his character’s excitement for rhymes and puns quite well.
Daniel Sailland plays the infamous Captain Hook, and maintains a delightful accent throughout the play, and succeeds in making even the most dastardly of deeds as good fun.
Though it’s his declaration early on in the play that his is an equal opportunity pirate ship that kicks off director Julian Packer’s changes to the play.
Female pirates join the fray, and, though initially invited aboard to do baking and other womanly chores (without pay no less), Hook’s sudden dedication to equal opportunity, and the new pirates’ fearsome growls and threats make them all fellow pirates.
The play goes further with this women’s rights message, exchanging culturally insensitive Indians for The Lost Girls — each a childhood embodiment of a famous and significant woman in various fields, from Nellie McClung to the U.S.’s first female lawyer, Arabella Mansfield.
The Lost Girls are a much more organized and educated group compared to the Lost Boys, and just about every other character in the play.
While there remain some issues with maintaining traditional parts of Peter Pan with the women’s rights message, serving to muddle the message a bit, the point that all in society deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential certainly remains the centrepiece.
In terms of the music, live piano and guitar accompaniment is appreciated, and performers give a decent singing performance, with Handley as Wendy perhaps showing the most vocal strength. The mermaids’ song is also quite enjoyable, and The Lost Girls’ take on the Major-General’s song from The Pirates of Penzance is wonderfully inventive.
Various cast members could nonetheless take note to keep their voices loud and proud, as sound level dipped on a few occasions.
The use of stage and props in this production is ingenious and playful, with those behind the scenes digging deep into their tickle trunk of theatrical tricks to animate Tink, get Pan and the Darling’s flying, illuminate the mermaids and more.
The production’s approach to the ticking crocodile is perhaps a good metaphor for the approach to the play as a whole. The famous reptile gets a full part in the show, wearing a costume that delighted the audience in large part because it invites just the right amount of imagination.
The whole musical instills a sense of childhood, where the audience enjoys a playtime story told with ability and joy.
As of the writing of this review, the ECHO Players production of Peter Pan (running until Dec. 30) is sold out. This marks the second time in 20 years that tickets have sold out before opening night. For more info, go to www.echoplayers.ca.