Tapping into the wonder and charms of a limitless imagination, the story of Peter Pan opens Thursday on the Red Deer College’s Arts Centre mainstage.
Penned by J.M. Barrie, the classic tale, directed by Thomas Usher, runs Nov. 22-24, 28-30 and Dec. 1 with curtain at 7:30 p.m. There are also matinees Nov. 24 and Dec. 1 at 1 p.m.
“It’s a very iconic story from children’s literature that we all have an affinity for,” explains Usher. “The discussion we’ve been having is what makes it so relevant for us? We’re still fascinated by it – there’s still that thrill with it. There are kids that fly, there are pirates.
“And as Barrie describes it, Neverland is that little place just between sleeping and waking, where you are just about to fall asleep or you are just about awake and things seem very real. We’ve tried to imagine ourselves seeing through the child’s imagination what would, in their everyday life, transform itself into their dream world.”
The plot is instantly recognizable but as every bit as engaging as always. Despite their parents’ best efforts at a good English upbringing, complete with perfect manners, the Darling children are acting up. When Mr. and Mrs. Darling go out for the evening, an adventure ensues as the children fall asleep. A mysterious character who can fly with fairies, fight like a pirate, swim with mermaids and crow with abandon appears.
Peter Pan invites the children to join him on a journey to Neverland. It turns out to be a magical, mystical island where a person never grows up. But before the children can return home, they are captured by Captain Hook and his band of villainous followers.
Pan, hoping to rescue the children, meets Hook for a final battle of good and evil aboard a pirate ship.
The charm of the story is simply irresistible. And just as much so for adults in a world that, “Forces us to grow up, follow the rules and be proper gentlemen and ladies and we wish we could capture and hang on to a bit more of that innocence of childhood and play in our imaginations.”
Interestingly, as Usher explains of delving into the source material, Barrie had written lengthy stage directions that serve to enhance the production further. “He writes these very long, prosaic descriptions of what’s happening in the children’s minds, or what Neverland looks like. We lifted some of that out and gave it some voice as well. That was our approach to it.”
The set, designed by Colin Winslow, is based in the world of London in 1904 and drawn from the imagination of schoolchildren and picture books. “He’s fantastic – especially for anything English,” adds Usher of Winslow’s tremendous skill.
Everything is rendered with exquisite detail from the Darling nursery and the island of Neverland to the Mermaid’s Lagoon and the pirate ship.
Costume designer Angela Dale has also created a fantastic array of outfits. “Her costumes are always fun and playful. She designs that creative, fantasy work which is always fun as well. She’s had a lot of fun recreating the look of the Edwardian period plus extrapolating some of that pirate whimsy.”
As for the students, they’ve been busy immersing themselves in England’s fascinating Edwardian period – about 1901 to 1910 – via plenty of research. “This is also one of those plays where we really call on the audience to use that great tool they already have which is imagination.”
Ultimately, for Usher, it’s been a delight to reinterpret one of the theatre’s finest offerings. “I love the research – I love going back to the source material and looking at the different approaches to the story back there and trying to imagine what is possible. I always appreciate the energy of the cast as they try to discover new things as well.”
Family ticket packages for Peter Pan are available, as are group rates. Tickets are available at the Black Knight Ticket Centre by calling 403-755-6626 or visiting bkticketcentre.ca.