Review - Peter and the Starcatcher (Royal and Derngate, Northampton)

Rick Elice's kooky Tony Award winning Peter Pan prequel, set in the Victorian era, introduces Pan fans to Molly Aster, a 13 year old apprentice Starcatcher who runs into a trio of mischievous but lovable orphans on board a ship called The Neverland. When pirates attack and Molly's father is kidnapped, Molly and the boys gang up and embark on a fantastically outlandish adventure together! 
The company of Peter and the Starcatcher
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
Although it does take a little while to find its feet, Peter and the Starcatcher is ultimately a fun piece of theatre. Elice's script is full of wit and peppered with references to J.M Barrie's classic text, and the cast really savour each of the multiple characters they are required to play throughout the show. Greg Haiste's dastardly Black Stache is a total scene stealer who chews the scenery like nobody's business and stops the show multiple times with his hilarious and gleefully malevolent line delivery. Evelyn Hoskins' intrepid Molly Aster is tenacious and likable, while Peter is played with great depth by Michael Shea, especially in act two when the character really comes into his own. The rest of the cast is fantastic, and portray a multitude of delightful characters with precision and clarity. 

The world which the characters inhabit is brought to life on a fairly empty stage, with ropes hanging from the ceiling and a large loading door at the back. Scenery is creatively formed out of random objects, such as green umbrellas which represent a forest, and an assortment of doors, frames and ropes which come together to create the belly of a ship. Additionally, the iconic Neverland crocodile's jaws are made out of a step ladder, while birds are fashioned out of feather dusters. David Woodhead's set design is resourceful and its playfulness echoes the themes of childhood and freedom which the play touches heavily on. Meanwhile, evocative lighting design by Howard Hudson gives the piece a magical, mystical feel. 

While the production feels deliberately rough around the edges, Luke Sheppard's direction is slick, ensuring that despite the constant multirolling, somewhat dense dialogue, and inventive use of props which often require imagination to reach their fullest effect, the plot is almost never muddied or unfocused. The whole play feels fluid and inevitable, thanks to sharp and clever scene transitions involving lots of physical theatre. As such, the audience is swept along with the story as if they are a part of it. 

At times though Peter and the Starcatcher does seem to lose steam a little, thanks in no small part to a number of innuendos which seem too blatant and shameless for parents to enjoy, and which fly over the head of younger audience members. The piece shines brightest when it is at its broadest, with over the top double act scenes between Black Stache and his first mate Smee, and a particularly bizarre musical number at the top of act two which features a gaggle of serenading mermaids. 

In the season where pantomimes dominate family theatre outings, Peter and the Starcatcher is a quirky alternative. It's a zany, offbeat escapade which feels fresh and revels in its outlandishness before delivering a poignant and sentimental conclusion. Family theatre doesn't get much more magical!