Friday, March 06, 2020

The Untold Truth of Captain Hook – gripping and imaginative with a surprising set and mesmerising performances (Replay Theatre in Lyric Theatre) #BCF2020

Replay Theatre opened Belfast Children’s Festival this evening with a charming and intricate piece of theatre that mesmerised children and adults alike. The Untold Truth of Captain Hook takes a look behind the popular villain and imagines an origin story that humanises the figure of hate who looms large in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

James is a minute older and a decade less spontaneous than his twin brother Peter. When their mother dies and their father disappears, they have to fend for themselves. But ‘better together’ isn’t always an enduring strategy, and when the two lads become separated, one grows up quickly while the other clings onto childhood out of fear of further loss.

Chris Grant and Niomi Liberante play James and Peter with vim and vigour. Extended fight sequences show the rough and tumble of siblings playing at being pirates. Acrobatic Liberante exits the stage in novel ways and doubles up as another orphan Rupert. By the end of the show, Grant’s swaggering James feels a foot taller than at the start. Gary Crossan plays the father/narrator, allowing an increasing knowingness drift over the story like a sea fog as the audience are lured into the unfolding tale.

David Morgan’s tale is beautifully structured and weaves in so much of the Peter Pan universe while leaving space for new imagination. Promises, fears and juicy moist bananas speak to children. But their parents recognise regrets, dilemmas, and doing the wrong thing for the right reason. The soundscape is rich, though sometimes abrupt in its transitions. Diana Ennis’ set takes the shape of a tall ship’s quarter deck with time pieces covering the teak beams. The nautical design reveals surprise after surprise as the cast of three clamber over its levels and swing from the rigging. The use of shadow fighting projected onto the sails is a nice nod – though probably unintended – to Paul Boyd’s Peter Pan that ran in the Lyric over Christmas.

Janice Kernoghan-Reid works magic with repeated gestures, small props, and unexpected moments to draw together the strength of the writing and the design to create a rather stunning new piece of children’s theatre that runs in the Lyric Theatre as part of Belfast Children’s Festival until Tuesday 10 March.

With Cahoots NI touring the world with their powerful shows and Replay Theatre on top form with Hook, Northern Ireland is demonstrating that it’s a powerhouse for children’s arts.

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