Shalom Life | June 27, 2015

Shaw Festival Review: Peter and the Starcatcher

This compelling prequel to 'Peter Pan' will inspire audiences to go on an adventure of their own.

By: Hermine Steinberg

Published: June 24th, 2015 in Culture » Stage » Reviews

Shaw Festival Review: Peter and the Starcatcher

If you are not familiar with the story of Peter Pan, ( I know many of you who are reading this may think that I am insane even considering that there are people out there that have not read or seen or heard the story but I recently found that to be true – shock, horror, and yes, sadness!), stop reading this review immediately and go read the book or watch the movie because you will not be able to fully appreciate Peter and the Starcatcher. However, for those of you who are lovers of the classic Peter Pan story, let me warn you that this is not a conventional play but it does represent the essence of why you fell in love with Peter Pan in the first place. The imagination, spirit of adventure, and wild abandon that Peter Pan exuded is wonderfully captured in Peter and the Starcatcher. In fact, it makes up the very foundation of this campy piece of ‘story theater.’ I must admit that it initially took me off guard, but once I readjusted my critical lens, I found myself in this wonderful and wonderous fantasy adventure. It was like a group of tremendously talented kids from the neighbourhood knocked on my door and for the first time in a very long while I was asked to come out and play. And as Roald Dahl said, “A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.” Peter and the Starcatcher is a smart choice if you are ready to reconnect with your inner child and let him or her loose to enjoy an evening of silliness and pure fun.

Imagine a group of children acting out a story using whatever they have found around the house or perhaps a barn. Rigging, old costumes, model ships, vintage clothing, and their own bodies are used to create most of the props they need. The imagination of the audience is needed to fill in the rest. And the more you play along, the more enchanted you become. This is the realm of Peter and the Starcatcher. But the world you are entering in this prequel to Peter Pan – the back story if you will – is not all whimsy and delight. We are whisked back to the height of the British Empire, when colonialism, slavery, a rigid class system, and indentured servitude are all quite real and where three orphaned boys are part of the cargo to be sold off. “Boy” is one of the orphans and has lost all hope until he meets Molly, a Starcatcher in training who is trying to help her father complete a mission commissioned by Queen Victoria – to dispose of a trunk load of star dust that has the power to allow a person to become whatever one wants to be. The trunk and its secret treasure attracts the attention of the infamous pirate captain, Black Stache, scheming ship captains, and triggers a sea battle which ends in everyone being stranded on the island that is ultimately transformed into Neverland.

Peter and the Starcatcher is based upon the 2004 novel of the same name which was written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It explains what happened before JM Barries’s novel Peter and Wendy. Rick Elice’s stage adaptation is story telling at its finest. Introducing outrageous musical numbers, moan-worthy humour, and pun-filled wordplay, all without losing its feeling of a magical sea adventure. Imagine what it would be like to have Robin Williams improvise a bedtime story for you and you’ll get the picture. The play first premiered on Broadway in 2012 and earned five Tony Awards. In 2013 Disney announced that they would be producing the movie.

Jackie Maxwell directs this fascinating example of “story theater”, a refreshing departure from the traditional and elaborate plays usually associated with The Shaw Festival. Using only two minimalist sets, a dozen actors and clever lighting, props and sound effects, the success of this play depends on the combination of the ability of the actors to seduce the audience into coming along for a flight of the imagination, and a story that requires perfect timing and coordination to pack its irreverent yet sentimental punch. Maxwell masterfully creates the right balance of zany and heartfelt, fanciful and relatable. After all, is there anyone who has really never wished they could fly or that they could stay young forever?

The ten men and two women who make up the cast narrate the story they enact, play multiple characters, and must keep up a pace many Olympic athletes would find challenging. They are simply fantastic.

Charlie Gallant poignantly brings to life, ‘Boy’, the most sullen and hopeless of the three orphans. We watch him evolve into Peter Pan, clearly feeling his heartbreak and disappointment in the adults who have continually mistreated and exploited him, as well as his yearning for a boyhood he never had. It is only when he meets Molly and decides to join her on her mission to dispose of the trunk with the magical ‘star stuff’ does his life begin to have meaning. Although, Gallant is really the only ‘straight man’ in a world of over the top, campy characters, without his subtle stabilizing force, the others wouldn’t be able to take off.

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