By BRUCE DENNILL
Imperial Ice Stars: Peter Pan On Ice / Artistic Director: Tony Mercer / Teatro, Montecasino, Fourways, Johannesburg.
Staging any classic story on ice – be it a version of a fairy tale, a ballet or, as in this case, an interpretation of famous literature – give the production in question some novelty value, as most audience members will see less in this vein than they will more traditional art forms. Relying on a gimmick for sustained impact would be foolish, though, and it’s the extent to which Peter Pan On Ice goes to fill out every aspect of the piece that makes it an exceptional offering.
For a start, the expertise and athleticism of the all-skating cast is extraordinary, regularly drawing synchronised gasps from the audience as a difficult jump is landed or a smaller member of the ensemble is thrown through the air or swung around at speeds that would make astronauts gulp. Everyone is extremely well drilled, with marks more or less universally hit and their engagement with the audience never flagging, even as some level of fatigue must be setting in towards the end.
The cast is supported by fantastic visuals – a stage-wide screen at the back as well as interchangeable drops along the wings where computer-generated visuals take the audience through London, up into the sky and all the way to Neverland, Captain Hook’s pirate ship and the depths inhabited by the mermaids. Too often, such technology is simply not up to scratch, and poor animation, jerky movements and bizarre design ideas detract from the talent and hard work of the performers. Here, the graphics add considerably to every scene, augmenting the already powerful impression made by the beautifully detailed costumes – including one magnificent rainbow light-suit worn by Tinker Bell as she makes her first appearance.
Given the story – Peter, Wendy, Tinker Bell and other characters spend a fair amount of time flying as part of the narrative – wire work is unsurprisingly a large part of the production and, though there are unavoidable moments in which the wires themselves must appear on stage and be fitted to actors, there is never any disruption caused by this necessity, and the performers are so adept at adapting their movements to the demands of the harnesses and where they will swing and land that everything looks as close to natural flight as is possible.
The whole thing is family-friendly in the non-condescending sense – JM Barrie’s story has lost none of its magic and the choreography and spectacle of this production is difficult to resist no matter what your age. But there is a special treat for the younger audience members in the crocodile that stalks Captain Hook throughout the piece. The skater inside the bulky costume does supremely well to make his (judging by the size, it’s a guy) movements elegant and precise, and there is never a more enthusiastic response than when the creature – backed by the sort of pulsing psychedelic patterns that Disney used to pop into films like Fantasia and Dumbo – begins a routine to an immediately catchy melody that is hummed by more or less everyone in the foyer after the performance.
There is nothing particularly revolutionary about this show – it does what the title says it will, telling the story of Peter Pan, on ice – but first-rate production values, remarkable athleticism and a combination of talent, charisma and discipline from all concerned mean a couple of hours of captivating entertainment.