Peter and the Starcatcher is a rollicking adventure story that is truly fun for the whole family. Based on a 2007 novel of the same name, this Shaw Festival production is irreverent, witty and energetic. If you have children, or just enjoy a good pirate story, you won’t want to miss it.
In this whimsical prequel to Peter Pan, two ships are on a mission to destroy a trunk full of mysterious and powerful “star stuff.” Molly (Kate Besworth), an apprentice starcatcher and the daughter of a famous captain, longs for adventure but is stowed away on the safer and slower boat with her nanny Mrs. Bumbrake (Jenny L. Wright). On the voyage she befriends a group of orphans, including the sullen Peter (Charlie Gallant), who is challenged and intrigued by her energy and independence. When pirates attack the ships, it’s up to Molly, Peter and the orphans to ensure the star stuff doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
The improv-based rehearsal process used by the company is evident – the jokes, bits and asides all come as naturally to the actors as if they created them (they did). Director and festival boss Jackie Maxwell could have been a little choosier however; the gags are sometimes overcrowded and tend toward the cringe-worthy. Really, how many fart jokes does one show need?
The story smashes forward in a straight line, thanks to the enthusiasm and tight cues of the talented ensemble cast. Each cast member hops in and out of various roles –narrator, sailor, island savage and even the furniture – and each has some strong moments in the spotlight.
Nothing compares, though, to the incredible work of Martin Happer as the villainous Black Stache. As he waxes poetic and prances foppishly around the stage, we buy that he is just unhinged enough to be dangerous. The audience hangs on his every word, and rightfully so: his comedic timing and physicality are second to none.
Jonathan Tan as Smee, should also receive honourable mention for his work as Stache’s gleefully evil number two. In another’s hands, Smee’s antics could become manic and one-note; in Tan’s, they are simply hilarious.
All of the sound effects are created on stage, supporting the ‘story theatre’ approach of the show. Again, though, there is a bit too much happening. The copious sound and lighting cues sometimes hamper the action instead of propelling it forward.
Peter and the Starcatcher is at its best when it keeps things simple. When you see the joy emanating from the actors, and their love for this story, you’ll feel it too.
Peter and the Starcatcher plays at the Shaw Festival until Nov. 1. For more information visit www.shawfest.com.
photo credit: David Cooper