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Peter Pan **1/2

The Lyceum recently played host to what just might be the greatest adaptation of JM Barrie’s most famous creation I have ever seen.  That production, Peter and Wendy, was not only one of the highlights of the Festival but also one of the year’s best.  The production currently housed in the same theatre space, by contrast, doesn’t even compare.

There isn’t anything overtly bad about it.  In fact, there are many good, even great, points.  However, if one were to keep a tally of strengths and flaws, the flaws would win hands down.  Nothing ruins the production, but the high number of niggling problems adds up to a disjointed experience.

Take the flying.  I’m perfectly fine with seeing the wires that enable the cast to glide around, but to have them not only be as visible as they are here but to also make no bones about showing actors putting on and taking off the wires, even allowing the audience to see the actors actively shift their costumes to enable the wires to hook up, renders any intended effect worthless.

Or how about the set?  There’s a rather strong motif used in this production concerning the rather large bed from the Darlings’ nursery.  But sometimes good concepts don’t fully materialise into good practice, and the bed itself proves cumbersome, even distracting, to the action at hand, resulting in a set piece that feels out of place.  And I really have to call foul on the ‘brilliant’ idea of having the technicians wear pirate costumes while still wearing large clunky black headphones.  Either just wear black or take the ruddy headphones off when going onstage!

Most of the acting is fine.  Kim Gerard makes for a very good Wendy and Irene Macdougall is rather strong as Mrs. Darling (even if her Smee doesn’t convince).  Scott Fletcher’s Peter feels lost, more like a vulnerable young boy rather than a born leader and symbol for eternal youth, and Stuart Bowman is actually a better Mr. Darling than a Hook.  I do have to credit the youth theatre members who play the Lost Boys, all of whom showed great energy, focus and dedication.

But if this production has a hero, it is in the unlikely performance of Samuel Dutton, who plays a number of characters.  He’s an absolute joy to watch as the faithful dog Nana (a far better role than most credit) and has some fun as the crocodile and as a pirate.  However, the real revelation is his portrayal of Tinker Bell.  Dressed for aviation (save the large tutu), holding a wand with a large fairy at its tip and speaking in a form of gibberish that sounds like it has been lifted from a foreign language cartoon, Dutton completely convinces in his wholly original portrayal of the iconic character, who’s usually no more than a mere lighting and sound effect.  I was prepared to hate his performance when he first came on but was so charmed by him that I completely fell for it.

That’s the thing about director Jemina Levick’s production: it has many inspired choices throughout.  I loved the way she orchestrated large ensemble moments and has at least three things of interest happening behind the main focus of a scene.  It feels as if a fully realised world has been created.  Unfortunately, such choices have been undermined by such a large collection of setbacks and misfires that the production itself is never really allowed to take off.

Peter Pan plays at the Lyceum until January 3, 2010.

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