Hooked on Pan

Props Youth Theatre's 'Peter Pan' showcases at the Old Courthouse Theatre at 7pm tonight and tomorrow night, with a 10:30am matinee tomorrow as well. IMAGE: Props Youth Theatre (Facebook)

Growing up isn’t fun. There’s bills, stress, and an increase in the amount of medicine you need to stay healthy. Alas, adulthood is inevitable – and has been lurking around for longer than you may realise.

Full Throttle Theatre Company’s Props Youth Theatre took this concept to stage this week, with the group’s take on J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan. And what a take it is.

The intensity of the actors, the detail of the costuming and the precise recollection of the script were all commendable, and had the actors’ performances rivalling those of their ‘grown-up’ counterparts in Full Throttle.

What intrigued me the most on the show opening was Director Todd Barty’s take on the script: this production isn’t the friendly, fluffy cartoon movie you may remember. In the program, Todd explains that the story of Pan is both surreal and bittersweet: it’s “not of a boy who never grows up, but of a girl that realises she has to.”

Adulthood can be seen as a twisted and daunting being if the figures around Wendy are anything to go by: Mrs Darling (Kate Greet) is elegant but with an air of immaturity, leaving much of the final say to Mr Darling (Harrison Lessels), who is abrupt and has business above children on his priority list. And then we have Hook. Harlee Timms is flawless in his portrayal of the epitome of villainy  in Neverland, and left me drawing many comparisons to Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of the head pirate in Hook. Whether he was speaking or not, his stage presence demanded that he was the focus. We’ve been lucky enough to see Harlee in a few productions over the past 12 months, including Cathedral’s Grease and Townsville Little Theatre’s Jingo, and have come out of the theatre every time with nothing but praise for his performances – it has been incredible to watch his progression as an actor, and his performance as Captain Hook was a fitting swan song for his time with Props Youth Theatre. Congratulations Harlee.

As a juxtaposition to Harlee’s seriousness and intimidation was the frivolous and playful Peter Pan, played by Laura Pastega. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a happy person – but being that energetic and joyous constantly can be exhausting. Laura managed to keep the excitement level high throughout the entire performance, and had every child’s eyes on her in awe throughout. Laura embodied Pan well, maintaining the childishness and stubbornness of the boy who never grows up.

Trying to convince Peter that growing up is an important part of life is Wendy Darling (Gemma Shield), whose debate early on is whether staying with Peter and turning her back on adulthood would be all that bad. But this is not a debate she can ponder long, with the Lost Boys adopting her as their mother. I cannot commend Gemma enough for her performance: you could easily count on your fingers the number of minutes Gemma had off-stage, but for the rest of the play she was on stage and in the zone. She never missed a cue; she never stumbled a line; her blocking was perfect. Gemma Shield is a name that you can expect to lead the cast list of many productions to come.

Other notable mentions include John and Michael played by Bridie Shield and Nikolai Wuth, who transition from children of want to Lost Boys of leisure effortlessly; Lara Hodgeson’s dark take on Tinkerbell, whose distaste for Wendy is hilarious and results in one of my favourite lines recurring throughout the show; and the army of Lost Boys, who are the first thing you see when entering the theatre and the last thing you hear as you leave. I’ve never been one to compare plays to movies, but here I am about to do it again: the food fight at the start of Act Two was as fun and quirky as the one in Hook: the audience had settled into the style of the show, imagining props when required – so it was easy for us to imagine food flying, and the excitement and shock on the Lost Boys’ faces added to this believability.

Props Youth Theatre do an incredible job, and have such an ironic name: not a single prop was used, however the performance was even stronger than if the stage had been full of plates of food and ‘kisses’. Nothing was required but the skills and talents of the company’s cohort of actors, who all shone brighter than the second star to the right.

While many talk of Peter Pan as the story of a boy who never grows up, Props’ take is of a group of people who realise they have to: the world of pirates, mermaids and Indians is not as fantastical and playful as it is in picture books. I don’t want to spoil any more than I already have, but the ending may not be what you expect – and there are a few grim scenes which showcase the darker side of the Lost Boys (not that their laughing faces realise they’ve done anything wrong).

Congratulations to Todd Barty and his extremely talented cast for bringing Georgian-era Britain and action-every-second Neverland to the Old Courthouse Theatre. Makeup, costuming and music all add to the masterpiece the team from Props Youth Theatre have created, and I urge you to believe in fairies and fly to see one of their final shows.

Catch Props Youth Theatre’s Peter Pan at the Old Courthouse Theatre tonight at 7pm, or tomorrow at 10:30am and 7pm. Tickets available here.


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