| Nov 06, 2008

Nov 6/08 - Flying High With Peter Pan

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Feature Article - November 6, 2008 North Frontenac little Theatre Flies High with Peter PanBy Jeff Green

One of the easiest ways to measure the success of a public performance is in the number of “bums in seats”. From opera companies to symphony orchestras to theatre companies it is not the only criteria but it is one that cannot be ignored.

The North Frontenac Little Theatre's experiment with a youth production, Peter Pan, put a lot of bums in seats last week, and if there were room there would have been dozens standing at the back of the Sharbot Lake High School cafetorium at the sold out Sunday afternoon matinee.

The success of the matinee was set up by a free performance the previous Wednesday morning for area schoolchildren, many of whom went home and told their parents to buy tickets for Sunday.

The production was designed for a large ensemble cast and for a young audience. Since Peter Pan is such a well-known story, this version is able to fly through the plot at breakneck speed, finishing in well under 60 minutes, before the fidget factor sets in for younger, and older, audiences.

This in spite of the need to ferry a cast of lost boys, mermaids, pirates, and First Nations children on and off stage through 8 scene changes. This was accomplished by using easily removed props (fabric to represent water for example), and a pirate ship that could be pushed on and off stage by two children, as well as through the hard work of a seasoned NFLT backstage crew (stage manager Mary Lou Quenneville and assistant stage manager Kelli Bell in particular) to keep things moving.

Although it was quick, this production was not short on spectacle.

It all started with an exuberant rooster crow from Kelsea Babcock as the first of two actors portraying Peter Pan (the other was Dustin Kelly). Babcock established Pan’s boundless energy and enthusiasm and Dustin Kelly carried that through to the end of the production. The seamless transition between the two actors was one of the play’s strengths.

Other standouts were Tilda Bron and Claire Willis as Tinkerbell, and Dayna Stone and Holly Dickinson as Wendy. Ainsley MacDonald and Johnny Ray Skuce as Michelle and John, and Hilary and Joel Howes as Mother and Father, made the most of the family scenes.

The First Nations scenes, which were adapted to local Algonquin traditions by Marcie Webster from the generic JM Barrie original staging, were woven into the play perfectly, and the drumming and singing of the First Nations children, with support from Webster and Alison Farrant (who has a remarkable voice) added a real richness to the play.

Young Amber Asselstine used body and facial expressions as much as words to convey the defiance of Tiger Lily, and Cody Steeves played Smee with the right amount of humour and bewilderment. The scene of Smee tying up and untying Tiger Lily on the conflicting orders of Captain Hook and Pan (in a disguised vote) was one of the best in the play.

Paddy O'Connor, the only adult in the production who had a speaking role, and he capped the light-hearted tone of the production by playing Hook as bumbling, and tired, unable to keep up with Pan and full of fear of the dreaded crocodile.

If I have one quibble with the production, it was with Captain Hook, not because of Paddy O'Connor's performance but because I think in the end it was not necessary to cast an adult in the role. There was enough of an age gap between the youngest mermaids who were 4 and 5 years old and the 15 and 16-year-old actors who played pirates that a suitable Captain Hook could have been found.

Finally there was the crocodile, played by Surah Field Green who slithered and floated from the back of the theatre down the aisles to the stage four different times. The bright green crocodile costume was created by Jocelyn and Mike Steeves, and a secret trick behind the entire effect was a hidden skateboard.

Credit for the entire production goes to Director Danielle Harding and Producer Sally Angle, who brought theatre to over 60 young actors and an audience of over 600 people.

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