— Peter and the Starcatcher cast. Photo: David Cooper.
PETER AND THE STARCATCHER
A new purpose-built theatre for live performance is cause for celebration, and Peter and the Starcatcher inaugurates the BMO Theatre Centre in Olympic Village with a joyful bang. The play itself, a prequel to Peter Pan, is pretty wonderful, and the Arts Club production is an absolute delight, a hilarious and poignant celebration of the theatrical imagination.
Rick Elice’s script very cleverly provides a back story for Peter Pan. A series of goofy comic vignettes reveals how Peter and the Lost Boys ended up in Neverland, how the nameless orphan became Peter Pan, how he met Tinkerbell and got the power to fly, and—in a moment of comic genius—how Captain Hook got his name and his hook (not, in this version, thanks to the crocodile, although we do find out how that beast came to tick). We also meet the little girl who will grow up to be Wendy’s mother, and learn that she and Peter might have… But you’ll have to experience that bittersweet episode for yourself.
Although ostensibly set in 1885, the script is filled with lots of contemporary gags and silly anachronisms, and it invites the director to utilize low-tech theatricality and the bodies of the actors themselves to create the scene. David Mackay obliges with a clinic on imaginative multiple-gags-a-minute comedy brought to life by a superb cast and design team.
Leader of the pack is the inimitable and ever brilliant Colleen Wheeler, who plays Black Stache, the pirate later known as Captain Hook. Mackay has cast women in many of the male roles, and Wheeler makes a meal—no, a feast!—of the vain, fast-talking, not all that bright buccaneer with his painted-on moustache and sinuous body language. (“He’s chewing all the scenery,” Stache says, aghast at the giant crocodile. “Not in my scene!”) As obsequious second-banana Smee, Emmelia Gordon is almost as funny, and together they strike comic gold.
Less broadly comic but equally impressive are Rachel Cairns as Molly, the play’s central character, an intrepid 13-year-old who carries the magic starcatcher dust and saves the day, and Benjamin Wardle as the orphan boy who becomes Peter Pan. Their final moments together are surprisingly moving. Another fun couple is Beatrice Zeilinger as Molly’s nanny Mrs. Bumbrake, and Chris Cochrane as rough and smelly sailor Alf, who woos her. Katey Hoffman and Chirag Naik do nice work as Peter’s fellow orphans.
The rest of the versatile cast—Aadin Church, Vincent Tong and Joel Wirkkunen—double and triple as seamen, pirates, Italian natives, and more. The entire group, along with musicians Kevin Michael Cripps and Catriona Murphy, provide on-stage sound effects and play dancing mermaids in the big Mel Brooks-like production number, “Star Stuff Made a Mermaid Outa Me.” They also play doors and walls and other transformational theatrical tricks on Lauchlin Johnston’s terrific pirate-ship set, with its many moving parts, wearing Carmen Allatore’s delicious, sometimes outrageous costumes.
A very adult tribute to the childhood imagination and to the children in all of us who make theatre, Peter and the Starcatcher is the ideal opening show for this handsome new stage and a best bet for holiday theatergoing.