Awakening the splendour of Neverland | Sunday Observer

Awakening the splendour of Neverland

18 December, 2016

A magnificent display of vibrant and impressive thespian talent abounding with an exhilarating spirit of liveliness and dexterity, colourfully brought to life an enchanting performance of Peter Pan, The Musical, which opened at the Wendt on 12 December with a show run that ends tonight, 18 December. Designed, directed and choreographed by a rising maestro of Sri Lankan theatre – Kevin Cruze, this delightful stage play had its musical direction by Geethika Cooray. Cruze and Cooray have thus shown a marvellous synergy of talent to accomplish a theatrical feat that proved a treat for theatregoers. It was a production by St. Joseph’s College in collaboration with Cold Theatre 7 featuring St. Bridget’s Convent. Thus, the cast consisted of students from both schools as well as a few adult actors of Cold Theatre 7. Yours truly occupying seat Q-7 on opening night witnessed under the gentle darkness, a spectacular performance that did Sri Lankan theatre proud.

The plot runs basically on the storyline in Disney’s Peter Pan, but with several musical performances. This work contains a small ‘meta-theatre’ effect, characters calling on the audience to deliver applause or booing at times and calling out to the audience to answer questions in a collective affirmation (or negation) at certain points. as the story unfolds onstage, thereby admitting within the text of the play, that what the characters are engaged in is in fact a performance.

From the nursery in the Darling household to the various places in Neverland which include the mermaid’s lagoon, the home of the Lost Boys and Captain Hook’s ship, The Jolly Rodger, what was shown the audience were elaborately designed stage sets, pleasing and impressive to behold. One cannot help but feel, had the playwright and novelist, the late Sir J.M. Barrie, who created Peter Pan, been able to witness this production, he would surely have felt justice was done in full measure to give life to his wondrous fictional world in a Sri Lankan theatre.

The music, singing and dancing delivered by the ensemble of schoolchildren who formed the bulk of the cast that performed that night (with the exception of a few characters played by adults) was truly remarkable. Practically, every musical item that unfolded as the narrative progressed, drew applause from the audience. I would say a degree of sterling young thespian talent is now blossoming for Sri Lankan theatre, as evidenced through this production. Throughout the performance an impressive spectrum of agility and acrobatics was displayed with the musical and dance scenes, and action sequences. Showing no visible signs of opening night jitters (which ail even well seasoned actors sometimes) by any of the players, the whole cast should feel proud of what they achieved.

Special mention should be made of young Leeth Sinhage who played ‘the boy who wouldn’t grow up’ aka Peter Pan. His performance, from start to finish, was outstanding. The only instance I saw just a marginal smidgen of change in his expression that didn’t relate to his character’s performance was, when Peter Pan triumphantly stood on the shoulders of a pirate after his victory over Captain Hook. Understandably, the nature of the stunt would have caused at least a tinge of anxiety even in an adult, unless he was a professional acrobat! Therefore, one must say the fortitude of Peter Pan was performed well by this talented young actor. Special commendation is also due to young Natalie Ranasinghe who endearingly played Wendy Darling. The young actress shone on stage with her acting and singing talents.

The dance scene of Tiger Lily and her tribe of ‘Indian braves’ (I wonder how logically sound it would be to call them ‘Native Americans’ since they are in Neverland and not USA!) was also an attraction that showcased choreography to entertain the audience, which proved captivating. It is evident Cruze has a directorial craft and vision that aims to wow audiences.

Between scenes, the change of sets sought the virtue of patience from the audience. The breaks did affect the flow of momentum, one may say. But then again, keeping in mind that theatre, unlike cinema, is a medium of live performance, one must note that it is easy to criticize sitting in the audience, when only the people handling the logistics backstage would know the actual challenges involved. The sets were elaborate, captivating, and justified the intermittent waiting. The backstage crew and stage manager, Wasaam Ismail, an accomplished thespian in his own right, deserves applause.

Was it a performance that had not a hair out of place? To me, the only snag was when Captain Hook’s wig came off during the skirmish in the lagoon of the mermaids. But, Reihan Stephen who played Hook, ensured that the gritty Captain didn’t lose his head despite the slip of his hair, and maintained the mettle of his character throughout that scene.

What was achieved through ‘Peter Pan, The Musical’ is a triumph for Sri Lankan theatre. A show that deserves waves of robust applause; and which received from this reviewer, a standing ovation from way back in the last row during curtain call. And I say so for the record with pleasure in this, my one hundredth theatre review.