Theatre Review: Pan-Audience Entertainment, Or By Hook, Not Crook

July 2, 2016

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Disney’s Peter Pan Jr / Directed by Jill Girard and Keith Smith / People’s Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg

 

Versions of this story have been presented on stage for around a century now, so there is no chance that audiences will not be familiar with JM Barrie’s story of a flying boy who befriends a trio of young London siblings and invites them to his home country – Neverland – where nobody ever grows up and entertainment includes pretending you have a mother and staying one step ahead of a band of pirates, led by the infamous (and camp) Captain Hook.

The development aspect of the children’s theatre the People’s Theatre team specialises in is evident in the performances of the younger members of the cast, with the sturdy spine of the piece provided by more experienced actors like Clive Gilson (Smee/Nana/Indian Chief) and LJ Urbani (Mr Darling/Captain Hook), whose knowing asides ensure that the adults in the audience are both included and entertained.

Peter Pan is played by Phillip Shnetler, whos is exceptionally nimble (as befitting someone who can fly), perhaps because of previous training as an acrobat, while Noni Mkhonto does well to give Tinkerbell the angsty edge the character develops as her jealousy at Peter’s developing relationship with Wendy grows.
The flight sequences are cleverly handled, with some filmed green-screen scenes being well integrated with the live action and soundtrack. And the use of the whole theatre (the cast regularly make use of both of the side aisles and the foyer) gives the audience – particularly the kids – the thrilling sense of being more involved in the action than would be the case in a more traditional production.

For all its magic (and there’s plenty), this is a very balanced production, never feeling as though it’s been padded to fill it’s running time or over-simplified on behalf of its youngest audience members.

 

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