Peter Pan on Ice: At its best through the eyes of a child
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 rather different adventure through the eyes of a young and impressionable child than it is 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, 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 kids and adults alike. It’s all performed flawlessly, 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 The gorgeous scenery of the past has been replaced by animated scenery projected onto the back of the stage.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 JM 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 underwater 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. DM
Peter Pan on Ice runs at Montecasino’s Teatro until 11 January. Tickets from Computicket.