Printable CopyPETER PAN JR.
Hills Youth Theatre
Stirling Community Theatre
Until 20 Jan 2019

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Since Sir J.M. Barrie first wrote his play ‘Peter Pan’ in 1904, the story has been produced, adapted and reimaged in a myriad of ways. One of the most famous productions is the 1954 musical, the Junior version of which is currently being performed by Hills Youth Theatre in Stirling. With an hour-long run-time, the truncated script presents the tale of Peter Pan at its basic, coming together in a largely episodic style narrative. Featuring a cast of over 60 young performers, the production is a lot of fun, even if it is a little unpolished.

With such a large ensemble, director Hayley Horton had the challenging job of staging and blocking the show in a way that doesn’t just look like a disorganised crowd. This is generally well done, with the simple but functional set (by Horton and Karen Sierp) being used to set the scene without getting in the way. It is coupled very well with the lighting design, which is used to great effect to set the location and mood of each scene. The bare bulbs across the stage are delightful, reminiscent of night-time stars, as well as representing Tinker Bell. Admittedly, the stage does get a little messy at times with so many people on it, and the choreography (by Di Mason and Zoe Muller) has to be kept very simple for the most part for this reason. The Stirling Community Theatre stage is not huge, and it would have been great to see what the creative team could have done with a more versatile space. The costumes by Yolanda Tree are imaginative and don’t just follow the traditional looks we may be used to, while still clearly identifying each character and group. This helps in bringing Neverland to life, which truly does happen; the whole cast is committed, even when lacking the necessary energy to have everything land exactly as it should. The songs are very much of the time they were written in style and substance, and none of them do much to move the plot forward, but the joy is found in watching these kids perform their hearts out. When they all sing together in unison it is tremendous, and sounds especially good in ‘I Won’t Grow Up’ and the Pirates’ numbers. The various solos are performed valiantly by the leads, but none of them are vocally strong, especially in their upper registers.

The cast are full of enthusiasm, though few of the leads really stand out. As is often the case with young and inexperienced performers, the dialogue is often rushed, without a lot of expression giving meaning to the words. The characterisation is very broad and stagey, and has clearly been carefully guided. This is to be expected with this kind of a show, but it means that a lot of the emotional impact, and some of the jokes, get lost. Darci Sullivan as Peter is a competent young actor, but lacks the confidence and charisma the iconic character needs to really pop. Jemma Hayward is sweet as Wendy, but is limited in her expression and physicality. I can see Sullivan and Hayward growing in strength as they get older. Luka Bolte and Tom Grosser have good energy as John and Michael, but don’t have very much to do. As the villain of the piece, James Grosser is brilliant as Captain Hook. Though his dialogue is difficult to understand at times, his portrayal balances being a credible threat while getting some great laughs. ‘Hook’s Waltz’ is the highlight of the night. In the featured cast, Michelle Stewart and Clare Grosser often steal the spotlight as two of the Lost Kids, and the supporting pirates are doing some great character work—Teliah Shepherdson as Jukes was a delight to watch. This production thoughtfully avoids any racial issues by changing the stereotypical Indians to be Brave Kids—even though the ‘Ugg A Wugg’ song and Tiger Lily’s clipped way of speaking still feel a little grating. This group have the strongest dance numbers, and Muller and Mason use them well. Some of the stage business gets a little distracting or confusing, but there does not appear to be one member of the cast who isn’t switched on and engaged—a truly impressive feat.

The show largely represents a great opportunity for the cast involved, and for their family and friends to see them onstage. The short runtime makes it ideal entertainment for kids, who are bound to be whisked away by the classic story. Not everything here works, but considering the huge cast, their lack of experience, and the constraints of working with such a well-known story, Horton and her team should be congratulated. I am sure the whole cast will have fond memories of being in this show for years to come.