Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Untold Truth of Captain Hook – storytelling with tiny details and swashbuckling fights (Replay Theatre at The MAC until 1 January)

The Untold Truth of Captain Hook was one of the last theatre shows I saw before Covid closed everything down in March 2020. Replay Theatre’s origin story for the pirate villain in Peter Pan was part of the 2019 Belfast Children’s Festival. And now the already well-developed production has returned to The MAC’s stage as their kids show for Christmas 2021 with a few updates.

James is a minute older, a foot taller, and a decade less spontaneous than his twin brother Peter. When their mother dies and their father breaks down and disappears, the brothers 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 a fear of further loss.

Clocks and candles adorn Diana Ennis seafaring set with a myriad of doors and hatches secreted in the wooden panelling. Niomi Liberante and Christopher Grant are back playing twins Peter and James, with Liberante acrobatically tumbling around the set with her character’s youthful vigour, while Grant matures from cautious seriousness to downright swagger.

Keith Singleton joins the cast as the narrator, an actor with a sparkle in his eye and a voice and a toolkit of gestures that draw the audience into his confidence. The twin’s mother and a number of other characters are performed by Christine Clare.

David Morgan’s tale of the twins growing up, becoming orphaned and dealing with setbacks as they find their way in the world feels fresh. The puns throughout – verbal and physical – are great, and the ending is satisfying as it draws together various strands to feed back into the wider understanding of the Peter Pan story.

About 40 minutes into the hour-long show, the story sails into quite dark waters for an extended period and I’m in two minds whether the narrator’s warning asides to the audience are necessary to lighten the mood, or whether the writing in that section just needed to be tweaked to more quickly steer the action into calmer seas.

Suitable for children (and parents of children) aged five and above, Janice Kernoghan-Reid’s direction values the small, intimate gesture – like folding an origami boat – as much as big swashbuckling fights and swinging out from a mast towards the audience. Shadows projected onto the set’s sails are nearly indistinguishable from the real ones.

Children and adults alike will understand the feeling of growing up in a hurry. They’ll know about promises being made … and broken. And they’ll remain intrigued to see which piece of the set Liberante and Grant will pop out of or disappear into next!

The Untold Truth of Captain Hook is docked at The MAC until 1 January

Photo credit: Melissa Gordon

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