Writer: Rick Elice
Director: Luke Sheppard
Reviewer: James Garrington
Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up – the lost boys, battles with pirates, and the children who fly with him to Neverland. What happened before the book, though? How did the boys get there, why don’t they grow up?
Peter and the Starcatcher promises to tell us that story, as Starcatcher apprentice Molly embarks on a daring mission to stop a valuable cargo of starstuff from falling into the wrong hands. On board ship, she meets an orphan boy, before a shipwreck leaves them stranded on a tropical island with fearsome pirates, angry natives and the precious cargo.
Peter and the Starcatcher is an absolute delight from start to finish. Starting from an open stage cluttered with boxes, ropes, and ladders, the cast invites us to use our imaginations to transform the theatre into the British Empire, the deck of a ship and a mysterious island – and such is the skill of David Woodhead’s design that little imagination is actually required as sails appear, ladders become ships, a lifebelt is transformed into a window.
The cast is, without exception, excellent. The production calls for a lot of slapstick, visual and physical humour and they deliver it with joyous abandon. Heading the cast is Evelyn Hoskins as a wonderfully feisty Molly, a girl who is clearly better at everything than the boys around her, and who tries hard to control her impatience as they won’t accept it. Hoskins delivers a nicely-judged performance as she transforms from the exuberant tomboy to the girl who starts to feel herself becoming a young woman.
Opposite Hoskins is Michael Shea in his professional stage debut as Peter. This is a Peter Pan set mostly in the traditional mould, all full of bravado – yet also tinged with sadness as he starts to discover the reality of his future. Show-stealing performance of the night comes from Greg Haiste as Black Stache the pirate though, with a deliciously memorable portrayal of how Captain Hook came to lose his hand.
In the wrong hands it could appear to be completely overacted, and the whole production ridiculously over the top – but that is one of the joys of the piece. Out of what appears to be nothing, the cast creates a piece of inventive story-telling that reaches out into the audience and draws it in. It’s all delivered in a way that makes it totally accessible and enjoyable for the young members of the audience, but at the same time adults will also appreciate the clever wordplay and topical references. There is good use of music too, written by Wayne Barker. It’s often there in the background, but with an occasional song including one of the great highlights of the production You Made a Mermaid out of Me, in a scene that will be remembered for a long time.
Luke Sheppard has created a production that is funny, effective and incredibly slick – and if it becomes a touch sentimental at the end, that goes to serve as a good counterpoint for all of the antics that go before.
Like Peter Pan himself, once this show takes off it just keeps on flying. If you want to leave the theatre with a massive smile on your face and a warm feeling inside, look no further than the Royal &Derngate and Peter and the Starcatcher. Superb.
Runs until 31 December 2016 | Image: Manuel Harlan