Peter And The Starcatcher
Drama Centre Theatre / Sept 29
Playgrounds are magic spaces where a child climbing in a jungle-gym is in her mind clambering over creepers in a real jungle, or flying instead of riding a see-saw.
Peter And The Starcatcher transforms the stage into a similar playground for all ages, where a see-saw lets a girl fly, where wooden planks and ropes become sailing ships tossed at sea and curtains of net become a tropical jungle full of freedom and danger at the same time.
Take imaginative production design (set by Philip Engleheart, lighting by James Tan), add a cast from the who's who of Singapore theatre and the result is a top-notch rollicking production presented by a troupe already known for showing Broadway's best here.
Peter And The Starcatcher is based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which was adapted for the stage by Rick Elice. It provides an origin story for the much-loved children's character Peter Pan, created over a century ago by J.M. Barrie. Peter Pan is the boy who never grows up, who lures generation after generation of young girls out of the confines of the home and into wild adventures in a faraway island.
The play starts with an unnamed orphan, Boy (Thomas Pang), dragged into a battle between pirates and British naval officers over the "starstuff" guarded by Molly (Carina McWhinnie, who flies on stage and rises to every occasion in her role).
Eventually, Boy and his fellow orphans (Salif Hardie and Andrew Marko) find confidence, friendship and a new home after running a gauntlet of savages, mermaids and one hungry crocodile. Each of the dozen actors in the cast plays multiple parts, including furniture on the ship or trees on an island, to complete the illusion of each scene.
Some main roles stand out: Thomas Pang is an appropriately puckish Peter to McWhinnie's Victorian hoyden. Adrian Pang outdoes Johnny Depp's Pirates Of The Caribbean persona with his foppish take on fearsome pirate Black Stache. Benjamin Chow is smirky and snarly as the bowlegged pirate Smee; Crispian Chan and Andy Tear are ridiculously adorable as a rough sailor and Molly's nanny, who find love on the high seas.
The production has some unique additions for the play's debut in Asia. The ships set sail from Victorian-era Singapore, the sailors lapse into Malay and hum a haunting rendition of children's song Shi Shang Zhi You Ma Ma Hao (On Earth, Only Mother Is Good), whenever Boy longs for his family. Live music by Joel Nah and Rizal Sanip follows the original Wayne Barker score, but adds the gamelan to the roster of instruments (sound design by Ctrl Fre@k).
Peter And The Starcatcher is an oddly well-timed play. It satirises the colonial activities of the British Empire, but shows here only months before Singapore is set to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Stamford Raffles' landing.
It gives Molly the main mission, the tools and skill-set to save the world, but in keeping with times then - and now - the girl gets second billing to the Boy. Molly has to keep repeating herself to be heard and even then, the leadership post is contested.
At the end of the play, Boy, now Peter, gets his safe space to continue being a child and put off the pressures of adulthood. He gets to forget his sadness, while a wiser, older Molly remembers and later sends her daughter to soothe his pain.
This is in keeping with the original story but also chillingly reinforces a toxic state of gender relations, where women are made responsible for the hurt feelings of men, who in turn refuse to take responsibility for their actions.
It is Molly who really deserves to be shielded from the trials of growing up. Sadly, even for this clever, creative and delightful play, that is a fantasy too difficult to pull off.
BOOK IT / PETER AND THE STARCATCHER
WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street
WHEN: Until Oct 20; Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 7.30pm; Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2.30 and 7.30pm; Sundays, 2.30pm
ADMISSION: $20 to $90 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)