Chris Abbott | 21 Feb 2019 14:09pm
After a few weeks away from reviewing after a hospital stay, I was determined to get to the Garden Suburb Theatre production of Peter Pan, having very much enjoyed previous productions by this enterprising and inclusive group. My thanks to the front of house staff for their welcome and for quickly moving me to a suitable position. Although I have reviewed the company before, this was my first visit to the King Alfred Phoenix Theatre, a comfortable studio space with good sightlines and a large stage area.
Once again, this group was exemplary in its determination to have a wide range of performers: in this case from 6 years old to 85 years young. With a cast of 40, regular directors Mary Musker and Emma Pleass will have needed all their expertise and experience to deliver as polished a performance as was presented at opening night. Wisely working with a minimum of props such as the crucial shadow, thimble and weapons, and on a simple but well-designed set, they managed to make the most of their large cast, with particular set-pieces such as the Mermaids’ Lagoon all the more effective for having so many denizens of the deep to fill the stage.
The effectiveness of the mermaids, as well as the Pirates, Lost Boys and Braves, was due in no small way to the superb costumes, the work of a team of six. The mermaids in particular were spectacular, especially in a small space – and we even saw an impressive pack of wolves at least briefly; after all that work making the costumes it would have been good to have seen a little more of them. The final fight was also very impressive, with not just Hook and Pan but most of the rest of the cast battling away within feet of the audience.
Particularly effective in this production were the puppets by Jo Eggleton Rance and David Rance. As I wrote in a recent Sardines article, more amateur groups are using puppets in performance now, and often very successfully. In this case, the group had the great advantage of some excellent puppets to work with; indeed I would suggest they should be made available to hire by other groups if all involved agree. Nana the dog was more effective than at least one professional puppet of the character seen this Christmas, although operator Tim Solomons, highly effective when the dog is still, needs to ground it a little more when moving rather than gliding across the stage. He also needs to focus on the puppet not the character being spoken to, but these are small points in what was an excellent use of puppetry. And it was good to see the very impressive crocodile in the hands of some of the youngest members of the company.
Another actor-puppeter played Tinkerbell, with Emily Hill operating a fascinating creation made of kitchen utensils and quite correctly speaking through the puppet and bringing it to life with bells and sounds. Definitely one of the two performers to watch in this talented ensemble. The other was, I have to say, Lucas Farrer as Tootles. Having commended his ability last year in Aladdin to get full impact from one repeated word, it was good to see him given a little more script to deal with this time, and he fully lived up to expectations. Surely a lead part next year?
There were no weak players in a cast far too large for all to be mentioned by name, but Jessica Taylor worked hard to get the most from Wendy, not an easy part to play given all J M Barrie’s conflicted thoughts about motherhood. As Hook, Andy Farrer managed to pull off an unusual double: Hook and set designer rather than the more usual Hook and Mr Darling. He was a relatively genial figure but none the worse for that. Opposite him was the rather mature Peter Pan of Tilak Patel. This was a thoughtful performance of great truthfulness and sincerity, but he did seem a very elderly Pan surrounded by such a young cast. This was even more the case with the Darling children, with John played with some restraint by Rebecca Hill and Michael rather nearer to caricature in the hands of Sara Ashlea. Both performances would have worked well in an all adult production, but they seemed very out of place when surrounded by real children, many of whom could surely have played the parts. Having always been impressed by the opportunities given to young people by this company, I was surprised by this casting decision.
Despite my reservations about some of the casting, this was a highly successful production. I would, however, suggest an announcement be made before the performance about the taking of photographs; the person in A3 on the first night spent most of her time waving her very large phone in the air taking endless photographs which must have been in the sightline of many of the audience. After the announcement during the interval, she took photographs slightly less obviously in the second half but then sat in the front row checking texts in full view of the cast: I sometimes despair of audience members, but at least one Broadway theatre now impounds mobile phones as audience members arrive, so let us hope that catches on here.
- : admin
- : 20/02/2019