Between the World of Coke and the Georgia Aquarium stands a 100-foot tent encompassing the scenery of 1904 London, the perilous seas on which Captain Hook of the Jolly Roger sails and the fabled island of Neverland. Threesixty Entertainment has created a fresh interpretation of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan at Pemberton Place. For those that grew up with the Disney film, this adaptation is markedly different, striving to be more faithful to Barrie’s original work. Technical issues are clearly present, but it is hard to walk away unmoved by what happens on the stage.
The feeling sluggishness permeates most of the first act; however, a few standout moments leave the audience breathless. Of particular note is the sequence when the children make the breathtaking journey from their London home to Neverland. This is an impressive demonstration of the first-of-its-kind 360-degree projection of computer-generated imagery, faithfully rendering over 400 square miles of London while showcasing the acrobatic prowess of the actors.
The first act also brings out the impressive work of Sue Buckmaster, director of puppetry. Nana, the ostrich and the infamous crocodile are presented in a unique and creative manner through the use of simple objects and the puppeteers’ skills, particularly that of Christopher Keller. While some might see this as a flaw that detracts from the realism of the acting, it adds another dimension to this unconventional production.
In the same way, the ropes and coat hangers used for flying are clearly visible, and this can either be seen as unprofessional or creative, depending on the audience member’s perspective. It seems clear that director Ben Harrison realized that certain elements such as flying and the animal characters would be more or less impossible to pull off convincingly. Choosing to embrace this fact, rather than unsuccessfully try to avoid it, is admirable.
Despite these innovative additions to a classic story, the show is not without its flaws. Ciaran Joyce is fittingly cast as the titular Peter Pan. While most actors do the best with what they are given, the decision to cast adults as children negatively impacts the overall performance. As a whole, the dialogue consists of too much yelling, which limits the range of emotions that can be expressed. Too many set changes are clumsily executed and draw the audience’s attention away from the main action. While billed as an exciting aspect of the performance, the sword fighting instances are unimpressive due to their lack of believability.
While the first act leaves something to be desired, once intermission is over, the story immediately picks up. Finally it seems as if the narrative has some direction as opposed to feeling like a disjointed collection of adventures. Relationships between characters are developed more thoroughly, particularly that between Peter and Wendy.
A brief duel between Hook and Pan while balanced on the plank is another standout moment of entertainment. It all culminates in a heart-wrenching ending that leaves the audience grappling with a gamut of emotions; here more than ever, one can see the striking difference between Barrie’s thought-provoking work and the simple tale of youth told in the Disney adaptation. The emotional gravity of the show makes it difficult not to recommend.
The performance venue itself provides an intimate setting in which to view the show. Even the back row is not too far removed from the stage, and actors often walk out into the audience adding to the feeling of immersion in the tale. The combination of acrobatics, puppetry, technology and theater brings out a unique retelling of this timeless story.