100 Years and still having Fun: Belvoir’s Peter Pan
J. M. Barrie’s timeless tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up and his adventures in Neverland has become not only a classic of the theatre, but a twentieth-century cultural touchstone. Thanks to its numerous re-imagining in film and fiction we are all familiar with Barrie’s renegade shadows, tinkling fairies and ticking crocodiles. But given the fact that the story is so well known it begs the question: can Belvoir’s current production of Peter Pan offer anything new?
Well, as the play’s adaptor Tommy Murphy points out, Peter Pan has never stood still. Over a 30 year period Barrie continuously revised and re-edited his play so that today, theatre companies are faced with the task of selecting which version to use. In this production, Murphy takes some liberties – grafting bits and pieces from different versions, as well as making his own alterations. As a result, audiences familiar with the play may notice some changes, particularly the substantial cuts to the first and final scenes which somewhat reduce the blurring between child and adult characters – a central point in the original script.
However, if director Ralph Myers has chosen to play-down this theme he masterfully pushes forward the concept of imagination and belief creating reality. The drastic set changes called for in the play’s 1928 version are done away with, and instead all the action appears to take place in the Darling’s nursery: a magical set complete with bunk-bed, a shelf full of games, drum kit, world globes and a dog kennel. In short, it is everything a child (or a team of actors) could ever want. And from within this nursery, with only the power of the children’s imagination, they transport themselves, and the audience, to Neverland. The bunk-bed becomes a pirate ship, a desk and blanket becomes marooners’ rock, and with the assistance of actors doubling in numerous roles (as children at play would do) the entire performance appears as a charming game of make-believe; a delight to watch. If this interpretation has a drawback it is only in the final scene, for if we are to believe that the entire play was a game contained within the nursery, it is then difficult to accept Mrs. Darling’s grief at her lost children for they were never absent.
This is however a minor drawback which is more than compensated by the performances. Simply put, the actors played a gargantuan game completely in the spirit of the play. Of particular note was Harriet ‘multiple roles’ Dyer; a pint sized woman with energy levels to boggle the mind. Easily the funniest actress, she was always engaging and her treatment of ‘the twins’ was nothing short of genius. So too were Gareth Davies, Megan Holloway and John Leary (Peter’s Shadow/Slightly, Michael/Tiger Lilly/Jane and Nana/Nibs/Smee, respectively) always fun and charming to watch. Yet another standout was Captain Hook, Charlie Garber, who played the villain with a ‘just right’ comical quirk. He’s the embodiment of that cruel anticipation one feels when playing hide and seek under a bed – he’s that parent who knows exactly where their little hider is, but is still astounded every time he gets it wrong.
Wendy, (Geraldine Hakewill) was physically well cast and made a neat fist of it; though perhaps at times she fell to the scenery. Unfortunately, Paula Arundell may have been miscast as Mrs Darling. Indeed, it is a hard task to become “the loveliest lady in Bloomsbury”. And although Arundell puts in a sterling performance, she often came across with a harshness that just didn’t suit; and frankly, she needed to tie her goddamn hair back. Her recent performance in Death of a Salesman is evidence of her talent – she just didn’t fit as a Mrs Darling, or as one of the lost boys. Similarly, Jimi Bani was physically wrong for the part of John: a little boy. Granted, he did have some beautiful moments as the crocodile. Watch out for that mischievous grin every time he starts a’coming.
Now, to Pan: Meyne Wyatt has great potential. He has a natural charisma and flair making it easy to see why he was cast. However, he lacked the polished finish some of his cast-mates possessed. He didn’t compel during his wondrous description of “the beginning of fairies” – making it difficult to believe that he actually believed. This sentiment would reappear on and off throughout the performance. Maybe he was just having an ‘off’ night. Or perhaps he just needed a different set of happy thoughts.
On the whole though, this is a swashbuckling-ly fun show and a rewarding night out for theatre goers of all ages.
Peter Pan is playing at Belvoir Street Theatre until the 10th of February and is a rollicking adventure for the whole the family. For more information: www.belvoir.com.au
P.S. This piece of theatre was accompanied by a very delicious Pinot Noir from a restaurant ‘Citizen Corner’ in Devonshire Street. Great food, wonderfully quaint atmosphere! A real treat.