Bad Hats Theatre’s Peter Pan: a creaky story well told

Carousel Theatre is presenting Bad Had Theatre's Peter Pan

Check out the cool horns that costumer Kiara Lawson has given Slightly (Victor Dolhai)
(Photo by Tim Matheson)

Peter Pan is not the most progressive story in the world. Even in this adaptation, which has excised Tiger Lily along with all of the other Indians, reactionary gender norms haunt the tale like the ghosts of every frickin’ Christmas past. Through Wendy, girls are taught that their highest calling — their only calling — is to become dutiful little mothers: to take care of absolutely everybody else’s emotional needs and to stitch Peter’s shadow back onto his feet. The boys? When Captain Hook is forcing some of the Lost Boys to walk the plank, Wendy pulls herself up to her full Victorian glory and declares, “I think I speak for all mothers when I say we hope our sons will die like proper gentlemen.”

At the end of the show, the actors introduce themselves and state their preferred pronouns but, given the script, that gesture feels empty.

Okay. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let me offer another perspective. I attended this performance with my three-year-old neighbour Nola. It was Nola’s first time at the theatre. When I asked her what her favourite part was, she replied, “All of it.”

I’m with Nola and I’m with me: Carousel Theatre’s production of Bad Hats Theatre’s Peter Pan is a charming rendering of a problematic story — and its scattershot style is well suited to little kids’ scattershot attention spans. (It’s recommended for four-year-olds and up.)

If your kids — assuming you go with kids — aren’t already familiar with the plot of Peter Pan, I doubt the youngest ones will glean much of it from this rendering. It’s all a bit conceptual. Marlene Ginader is onstage, for instance, playing Tinkerbell, but none of the other actors ever look directly at her because the real embodiment of Tinkerbell is a lustrous green ball that Ginader holds, or other actors hold. J.M. Barrie’s original novel is already episodic; in the stage version there’s a lot of multiple casting with actors changing roles on the spot; and this adaptation by Fiona Sauder and Reanne Spitzer stays surprisingly literary: it features a narrator who keeps delving back into the book.

But here’s the thing: little kids don’t care much about the big picture; they’re in it for the moment-to-moment pleasures — which abound in this telling.

In a performance that’s like a shiny piece of brass — that’s a good thing — Kaitlynn Yott makes a perky, pushy Peter Pan. And the supporting players offer all sorts of ornamentations: I particularly appreciated several moments of innocence from Victor Dolhai who’s playing Slightly, one of the Lost Boys. There’s plenty of song and playful dancing to perk things up. (The music’s by Landon Doak and the choreography by Wendy Gorling and Amanda Testini.) And the story-theatre style staging — Deb Williams directed — tosses up surprises: you won’t see the crocodile coming.

You don’t have to follow the whole story to be moved when Tinkerbell almost dies and the kids in the audience will her back to life by believing in her. And you don’t have to be on top of the plot to enjoy the battle with the pirates, who storm the audience and offer kids pool-noodle swords so that they can take part in the dueling. (Nola hid on the floor during this bit. She was not into it. But she was sufficiently hooked on the overall experience that she didn’t bail. And I thought it was fun.)

I also appreciated the resourcefulness of Kiara Lawson’s costume designs. My favourite moment in the show was probably Mrs. Darling’s onstage transformation into Tinkerbell.

To get the most out of this Peter Pan, I suggest you approach it as I think Nola did: as a succession of wondrous moments. Plot’s not always what it’s cracked up to be.

BONUS: This just in, Nola’s review for her dad. “There were some guys, I forget their names, and their songs were really good.”

BAD HATS THEATRE’S PETER PAN Adapted from J.M. Barrie’s novel by Fiona Sauder and Reanne Spitzer. Music by Landon Doak.  Directed by Deb Williams. A Carousel Theatre for Young People production. At the Waterfront Theatre on Saturday, November 30.  Continues until January 5. Tickets.

 

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Comments

  1. John Mason says:

    It was with some trepidation that I bought tickets to Peter Pan for my 5 year old granddaughter and I, so your, and Nola’s, review will have me heading to the Waterfront next week with joyful anticipation, and a sticky hand clasped in mine. I last saw this play on the London stage about 65 years ago (I was young then), so am looking forward to revisiting a classic.

    I have to say that, while I raised my daughters to be strong feminists, I can’t get to bent out of shape with gender-stereotype roles in theater once in a while. I feel that it doesn’t kill us to occasionally see a show “just as she was wrote”.

    I will check back with you after I’ve seen the show.

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