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Peter Pan: Bad Hats Theatre can fly. And multi-task. - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto

Peter Pan: Bad Hats Theatre can fly. And multi-task.
14 December 2017
by Drew Rowsome

When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.

Bad Hats Theatre's production of Peter Pan quotes liberally from the actual text of JM Barrie's classic novel. And they have certainly earned the right to: it is impossible to overemphasize how entertaining and imaginative, while staying faithful to the original, this version is. Of course it helps that the original is an ambiguous and frequently disturbing tale, which includes another line that is quoted directly,

To die will be an awfully big adventure.

Peter Pan is part of Soulpepper's "Family Festival" so it is, if not Disneyfied, certainly safe to be enjoyed by all ages. That all ages enjoyed it—from the rugrats restlessly ringing the stage to the adults chortling in the seats—is a testament to the power of both the source and the adaptation by Fiona Sauder and Reanne Spitzer. Barrie's themes of death and the horrors of conformity are placed front and centre, but framed with queer analysis and then slathered with a rousing practical demonstration of the sheer joy of creating, performing and watching theatre. There are layers of enjoyment for everyone.

Sauder (The Taming of the Shrew) is a swaggering Peter Pan with flickers of self-realization that slide across her face and build to the climactic moments. This Pan lives in the moment and is not afraid to lie, cheat, kill, or promise mermaids, to remain there. He believes he will be young forever. That familiar hedonism and questionable belief is challenged but when the options of family and normality are offered, they are defiantly rejected, resulting in not punishment or regret but a rousing final musical number. Sauder creates charm out of a petulant man-child while deftly puncturing the entire conceit of frat-boy masculine bravado.

Every Pan needs a Hook, and Graham Conway chews the scenery and twirls his villainous moustache to great effect. As is tradition, Conway does double duty as father figure Mr Darling and insinuates a tasty nasty subtext that is more faithful to Barrie's subtext than the author would probably appreciate. The foppish flourishes never cross the line but slither right up to it with comical and chilling effect. Conway also, in a very physical production full of sleight of hand, pulls off an extraordinary quick change from the bowels of a crocodile that is laugh out loud magical and seemingly physically impossible.

Matt Pilipiak pulls double-duty as the frazzled narrator and an even more frazzled Mr Smee. He is very funny. He is also key to the most intriguing jokes where the fourth wall is broken and the audience is invited to question what they believe and why, making the plea for belief in fairies a heartfelt plea for belief in the power of theatre. For once audience participation and manipulation was not only palatable but moving.

Lena Maripuu (Pippi: The Strongest Girl in the World) injects sexuality and feminist feistiness into her portrayal of Wendy Darling and almost conquers the muddled concept of motherhood that the character is victim to. Her siblings, Victor Pokinko (The Importance of Being Earnest) and Landon Doak (who also composed the catchy tunes as he did for Pippi: The Strongest Girl in the World) have great comic timing, slapstick grace and serious musical chops. Tinkerbell is incarnated, quite fetchingly, by a glittery rubber ball and the voice work of Spitzer who doubles as Mrs Darling and is responsible for "Movement Direction" which I would upgrade to "Choreography."

Peter Pan is filled with movement that never pauses for a second. Simple props become entire worlds. The flying is made believable with dance and acrobatics rather than wires (again, the wonder of theatre and imagination made manifest). Director Severn Thompson and Fight/Flight Director Jack Rennie keep the cast in constant motion but in perpetual focus with surprises at every turn. The ensemble—Jocelyn Adema, Matthew Finlan, Richard Lam (Heart of Steel) and Tal Shulman—do double or triple duty (blatantly in one of the funniest moments in the production) and turn bedsheets, doubletakes and treasure chests into a vibrant vista of play, comedy and serious reflection. Without, except in one case, the actual application of fairy dust.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into a piece of family entertainment. Undoubtedly I arrived with my cynicism heightened by the relentless forced merriment and capitalistic chill of the surrounding Christmas Market. When the first toddler wandered on stage it was a cute comic moment of suspense, by the third or fourth I was beginning to hope that one of the prop swords might contain an actual blade. The actors deserve extra credit for navigating a potential minefield of meandering mini-audience members and for being exuberant enough to make even the dreaded audience participation portions captivating. And that is the true subversive joy of this Peter Pan, not only was it an entertaining fast-paced gem of theatre but it also opens questions on difficult topics and exposes a nascent audience to just how potent, inventive and moving theatre can be. Peter Pan multi-tasks as effectively and irresistibly as the cast.

And scatters a thousand laughs skipping about the theatre.

 

Peter Pan runs until Sun, Dec 31 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Distillery District. soulpepper.ca, badhatstheatre.com

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