Fight and almost-flight

Peter Pan (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

April 2 – 9

I would say that Beenleigh Theatre Group’s take on JM Barrie’s “Peter Pan” is a strange little show… except it’s not exactly little. With a dog for a nurse, malicious tinker bell puppet, performers facilitating bedroom drawers and the exaggerations of the story’s far-from-perfect father (David Murdoch), there is a lot happening in Act One as the audience is introduced to the show’s protagonist Wendi Darling (Ethan Hill in reappropriation of the traditionally female role), a boy on the edge of adulthood, dreaming of a place to belong.

By Act Two, at the magical boy who can fly’s invitation, the three Darling children, Wendi, Joan (Alyssa Burnett) and Michael (Bailey Ryan) fly skateboard second to the right and straight on ‘til morning to the Never Land island of adventure and fun, realised in a simple graffitied setscape. While there are still some dark moments within the ensuing tale of wonder, Daniel Dosek’s nefarious Hook is more folliful than a fearsome, devilish commander of the Jolly Roger ship and its motley crew of pirates.

All children want to grow up except the captain of the Lost Children, youngsters who fell out of their baby carriages when their nurses were looking the other way, and Dérito da Costa injects dynamism from his first appearance as the animated free-spirited and mischievous Peter Pan. With head tiled upwards and statuesque stance, he captures the classic character’s iconic physicality and brings much joy to early scenes that see the unendingly youthful title character jubilantly jumping about in celebration of having had his shadow sewn back on by Wendie one night in the nursery of the Darling household. And with a child-like lack of emotional complexity, he moves quickly from boastfulness to selfishness and anger at the idea of ever growing up, emphasising the story’s themes of imagination and escapism. Nick Hargreaves, too, brings some wonderful moments of humour to the story in his role as Slightly, Peter’s lieutenant amongst the lost children, with his well-timed, dryly-humorous one-liners bringing many of the show’s laughs.

While the production’s few musical numbers don’t really contribute a lot and, along with Act Three’s mermaid dancers, drag down the story’s momentum, Dudley Powell’s fight choreography enlivens scenes such as Peter’s epic battle with best friend / passionate rival Tiger Lilly (Jai Godbold), which is realised like a hyper-real video game brought to life. Megan Brunett’s sound design also works well to imagine us into the story’s distinct settings, with characters gathered around cracking campfire sounds and Pan’s sworn-enemy Captain Hook commanding a creaking pirate ship across stormy seas.

“Peter Pan” is a show not often performed on stage and it easy to see why. It is a challenging choice for a community based theatre company to bring to life. In this production, which has been adapted and produced by members of the company, Beenleigh Theatre Group makes some clever choices in its attempt to realise this ambition, such as imaginative incantation of the ticking crocodile that took Hook’s hand, in keeping with the celebration of imagination that sits at its core, however, with so many novelties, not everything works. While the production does present as an escapade of sorts, it is just not as big as the awfully big magical adventure story deserves.  

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