- Associate Toronto Theatre Critic
It was more than 100 years ago that playwright and novelist J.M. Barrie created his most iconic character, Peter Pan. Since that time, the boy who wouldn’t grow up has been well-represented in everything from plays and books to movies and TV shows.
At its heart, the play is about the discord between the fun and innocent nature of being a child and the seriousness and responsibility of being an adult. While Barrie explores the darker side of this conflict in his original play and in his subsequent novelization, Theatre on the Ridge’s production focuses on the more lighthearted and magical aspects of the story, making the show much more accessible for children. And that is a very good thing because, let’s face it, there is not enough theatre available for kids to enjoy.
Director Carey Nicholson and Co-Set and Production Designer, Melanie Baker, present a spare but effectively evocative set, clearly differentiating between the two main settings of England and Neverland. The theatrical challenges — when you’re not a Broadway company with an unlimited budget — of how to make the actors “fly” and how to portray Tinkerbell are handled quite cleverly in this production. The mermaid scene was also a definite standout, using undulating pieces of fabric and adorable stuffed mermaids to create a whimsical sense of the wild ocean.
It is the cast, however, that really give this production its beating heart. Michael Williamson’s Peter Pan is imbued with a gleeful, non-stop energy that had audience members young and old riveted whenever he came swooping onto the stage. His playful, acrobatic performance could no doubt hold even the shortest of attention spans. His energy is matched by Duncan Gibson-Lockhart’s Captain Hook, who steeps his character in exactly the right amount of bravado and mustache-twirling menace, without ever making it too much. He, too, had the young audience members paying rapt attention whenever he made an appearance (and laughing hysterically whenever he was chased away in terror by the crocodile). Demi-Lee Bainbridge presents a Wendy with a wonderful mix of guarded caution and joyous abandon that all children — and adults — will find easily relatable. She and Mr. Williamson share a great on-stage chemistry throughout the production. Daniel McCormack displays some great comedic instincts as the Lost Boy Tootles, and wonderful dry wit and charm in his secondary role as the Narrator. Lexi MacRae had some solid comedic moments as Slightly, particularly endearing herself to many of the children in attendance. Well-deserved kudos to Frances Loiselle for flitting quickly about the stage and contorting her entire body for the sake of Tinkerbell’s movements, added with the great vocalizations for Tinkerbell’s voice. A standout ensemble scene comes in the second act when the Lost Boys use everyday pots, pans, dishes, and utensils to create a wonderful percussive moment of uninhibited dance and celebration.
Ms. Nicholson keeps the action well-paced and nimble, never allowing the show to get bogged down in dialogue, which increases the appeal of this show to a younger audience, as well as those grown ups who prefer plays that don’t get weighed down by too much exposition.
And what would a review of a child-friendly play be without a few comments from one of the children in attendance? After spending the full run of the show with his attention locked on the on-stage action, this reviewer’s seven-year-old son proclaimed the production as a whole to be “really, really great” and “very funny”, with “really good costumes and sets” and “cool swordfights”. He even stuck around afterwards to express his enjoyment of the show to members of the cast.
If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to introduce a child in your life to the magical world of theatre, or you’re simply someone who wants to escape to Neverland and feel not so grown up for a little while, this show is highly recommended. A note for parents who recall the overt racism in the versions of Peter Pan that they saw as children (the 1953 Disney film in particular) — no need to worry about taking your children to this production, as that element is not present.
Photo of Michael Williamson (left) and Duncan Gibson-Lockhart provided by Hark Nijjar (www.harknijjar.com).
The show is being staged until July 28th, 2018 at the beautiful historic Town Hall 1873 in Port Perry, 302 Queen St.
Showtimes are at 7:30 pm on July 19th-21st and 26th-27th, with 2 pm matinees on July 18th and 28th.
The show is approximately 2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
More details are available at www.theatreontheridge.ca.