Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan. It is the story of a boy from Neverland who wouldn’t, or couldn’t, grow up. While many are familiar with Peter Pan, or rather they know the 1953 Disney adaptation, this simplified version of the story is a far cry from J.M. Barrie’s original play and the novel that followed.
The McGill Players’ Theatre production of Peter Pan is an homage to Barrie’s narrative and the themes, both dark and light, which are ever-present in this whimsical story.
The action begins in the nursery of Wendy, John and Michael Darling who embark with Peter on an adventure they won’t soon forget. Along the way they encounter the lost boys, a mischievous fairy named Tinkerbell and the nefarious pirate, Captain Jas Hook.
The first thing you will notice upon entering Players’ black box theatre is the man sitting in the front row on the corner. He wears a red velvet smoking jacket and introduces himself to all who pass by as Barrie. He is of course playing the role of the playwright and he does so with the grace and youthful enthusiasm for which the man himself was famous.
Mark Weissfelner, who plays Barrie as well as operating a set of bells signifying Tinkerbell, is a delight to watch. His dialogue comes largely from the script’s extensive stage directions as well as blocks of text that are pulled from the novelization of Peter Pan.
Director Kelly Richmond was responsible for compiling the additional narration as well as including several elements found within later adaptations of the play.
“The play text, the script itself, is intended for children. And then you have the stage directions and the novel, which are very adult and […] are communicating a lot about mortality and sexuality,” explained Richmond. “So that was the goal with this production — to take those elements and put them into the dialogue.”
Continuing with the theatrical tradition of casting Pan as a woman, Becca Pearl plays the part exquisitely. Her portrayal of the timeless boy is effortless, ethereal and poignant.
With Pearl representing the forces of light and youthful innocence, Maka Ngwenya is just as potent in her portrayal of the black-hearted Hook.
Ngwenya, who also plays the matriarch of the Darling family, brings a fresh face and presence to the much-storied character.
The design of the production reflects the whimsical nature of the show while sticking to the basic constraints of a black box space.
“I really like black box because I think it really encourages suspension of disbelief and this idea of letting go and stepping back and saying ‘this is my imagination, let me project into it.’ So that’s sort of why we went for something more minimal,” said Richmond.
The play is at times funny, painful and joyous, as the themes in this classic coming-of-age story intertwine to create something truly magical.
Peter Pan runs from Feb. 26 – March 1. Tickets are $6 for students. They can be reserved online at ssmu.mcgill.ca/players/reservations.