Pan runs out of fairy dust

Theatre has been called a dying art. Enthusiasts of the medium have heard all the arguments, and anyone who’s willing to give it a chance learns there are some things that can’t be done anywhere but the stage. That said, it would be impossible to see a thirteen-storey robot punch down a skyscraper in the Martha Cohen, and anyone who tried would be a laughing stock. The spectacle of modern filmmaking simply can’t be challenged by the subtlety of theatre, and any special effects-laden stories that may have been worthy of awe at one time are now dually tasked with entertaining a crowd, as well as justifying the choice to present them theatrically at all. This is whereAlberta Theatre Project’s Peter Pan fails utterly. It’s still the same story filled with fantasy and wonderment its watchers will all remember, but ignoring the show’s many obvious seams is just a little too much to ask from a modern audience.

The flying apparatuses are the best example of this. While Braden Giffeths (Pan) and Arielle Rombough (Wendy) obviously logged enough hours on the dread machines to sell their characters’ aerial agility, a fifteen foot pole attached to a steel wagon wheel that takes three people to operate demands more suspension of disbelief than any reasonable person could be expected to give. Add to that both Evan Rothery (John) and Andrew Oberhofer (Michael) sharing a single ‘flight stick’ in the initial scene–a choice clearly intended for comedy that comes across as contrived–and you have an effect meant to heighten the sense of wonder that only detracts from it.

Similarly, Tinkerbell’s representation as a light on a stick held by someone in a black veil is like slamming a hammer against a thumb to forget about a stomach ache. Though it certainly isn’t the worst choice director Bob White could have made, it would have been a whole lot more effective if any of the sets had been black as well. Any of them at all.

Contributed to by a myriad of smaller ones, the two large problems with the effects could have been disastrous if not for Adrian Young’s excellent fight choreography. The strained movement of all the actors effectively captures the sense of children playing at melodrama, and the climactic battle on the Jolly Roger is enough to get a stoic nod of approval from Yen Woo Ping.

Spectacle aside, Griffeths’ portrayal of Pan as a smug, violent extrovert is a refreshing departure from the character’s more fabulist interpretations, and Trevor Leigh’s delightfully faye Captain Hook steals any scene he’s in. The engaging silliness of all the pirates carries the show through it’s rougher spots, though any attempt at whimsy–usually by the Lost Boys or the Darling children–falls as flat as most of the special effects. Oddly, it’s this discrepancy in quality, even in the minutiae, that reflects the experience as a whole.

The ATP production of Peter Pan, while flawed, is by no means a bastardization of the original text. The strength of its actors provides a crutch for the performance, though they’re often robbed of due credit by the obtrusive pseudo-Brechtian staging. If White offered some new take on the story, or some sort of rationale for it to be told in the way it is, Pan could have been exceptional. As it is, audiences are left with the unmistakable notion that White wished ATP was a movie-production house rather than a theatre company.

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