ArtSpoken & Reviews

Peter Pan is a flight of fantasy

Lesley Stones
12/10/2019 09:43:31

Lesley Stones: To properly appreciate a show that’s aimed at kids, it helps if you’re not an old and cynical adult.

Entering the fairytale world of Neverland with Peter Pan as your guide is a different adventure through the eyes of a young and impressionable child than for a grown up, even one who’s enjoyed all the previous productions of Russia’s Imperial Ice Stars.

So I borrowed three kids to see Peter Pan on Ice, and for them it truly is a magical, glittering, astonishing experience. At one stage the littlest nipper climbed off the cushion that made his seat a little taller and stood up to lean against the seat in front, as if he was being sucked in by the magnetic aura from the stage.

The Imperial Ice Stars entourage of 24 skaters includes many of Russia’s finest skaters, and between them they hold more than 300 competition medals. It also features South Africa’s own Fiona Kirk, who plays the part of Mary Darling along with her real-life husband Volodymyr Khodakivskyy as her stage husband George. They dance together superbly, of course, and Kirk has a stage presence that makes her stand out when she skates among the chorus line too.

The leaps, soars, flying acrobatics and the lifting of fair maidens with one hand while carrying out impressive twirls delights the kids and adults alike. It’s all performed flawlessly, and with some touches of humour as Peter or another character skate perilously and deliberately close to the edge of the iced-up stage.

Highlights for the kids include Tinkerbell flying into the children’s bedroom wearing a multicoloured illuminated cape, and the dancing crocodile with Marvel-style cartoon graphics projected behind.

For adults, the show feels a little different this year. The gorgeous scenery of the past has been replaced by animated scenery projected onto the back of the stage. That gives it the wow factor of being able to swoop over London and straight into the Darling’s home. But it does lose the physical sparkle and theatrical enchantment of the glorious stage sets we usually see.

The show based on the beloved book by J. M. Barrie is a new creation by the troupe’s artistic director Tony Mercer at the request of South African producer Pieter Toerien. Mercer worked with South African lighting director Faheem Bardien and set designer Nadine Minaar, with composers Tim A. Duncan and Edward Barnwell creating the music. Most of the music has the soaring orchestral feel of the classical ballets, but here it all begins to feel a bit samey.

The rollicking, fast-paced score is perfect for some truly spectacular ice dancing feats, but it needs a few more lapses into something slower to vary the pace. One lovely respite is a duet between Peter Pan (Bogdan Berezenko) and Wendy (Inna Horbachova), when the pace slows as Peter shows her the island and they seem to be floating off in the airborne bliss of new young love.

The costumes are flamboyantly gorgeous, and a mermaid scene that uses creative graphics to place the skaters under water is a visual treat.

Overall, however, the story has been lost a little in the quest for spectacle. There’s a tiny bit of narration at the beginning, but not enough if you don’t know the story. That’s very ballet-esque, but in a show for kids perhaps a little more narrative would be useful.

The antagonism between Peter and Captain Hook doesn’t come to the fore much, for example, with too little menacing undercurrent until the fight scene. Then as they clash in an elegant battle of swordsmanship there’s the welcome touch of a song with lyrics explaining how only one of the two can triumph. This helpful device is in complete contrast to the rest of the classical mood, where familiar snatches from Pirates of the Caribbean are interwoven with new material. Since the score has been written specifically for the show, a couple more of those sing-the-story moments could have been a useful addition.

Still, enough of the adult nit-picking - what did the target audience think? “I liked every bit best,” declared one of my borrowed trio.

Peter Pan on Ice runs at Montecasino’s Teatro until January 11. Tickets from Computicket.

Lesley Stones is the 2016 Arts Journalism Awards winner in the reviews category, presented by the National Arts Festival and Business & Arts SA.

This former Brit is now proudly South African. She started her career by reviewing rock bands for a national UK music paper, then worked for various newspapers before spending four fun-filled years in Cairo, where she ended up editing a technology magazine.

She was the Information Technology Editor for Business Day for 12 years before quitting to go freelance, specialising in travel & leisure writing and being opinionated about life in general. Her absolute passions are travel, theatre, the cinema, wining and dining.

Lesley Stones
Freelance Journalist
Related Venues:
Artscape Theatre Complex, DF Malan Street Foreshore Cape Town Western Cape South Africa
Montecasino Complex, Fourways Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa