Marcus Youssef is a well-known Canadian playwright and Co-Artistic Producer of Neworld Theatre. Niall McNeil has been working with theatre companies like Caravan Farm Theatre and Leaky Heaven for years as both an actor and a writer but this is his first major playwrighting credit.
Peter Pan is a story that has meant a lot to Niall over the years. Peter Panties is a version of the traditional fairytale that is made up entirely from the imagination of Niall who has been dreaming of this world of Peter Pan for many years. For Niall it starts with Wendy. Wendy is our window into the world of Peter Panties and as Marcus says the question is “What does Neverland look like?”
“This version of Neverland” says Marcus “is a war zone”. It is a world where Hook is Macbeth and when a character dies CSI comes along to investigate the death. This is a Neverland where Peter Pan and Wendy have sex and make a baby. A Neverland where the lost boys mingle with a teenage boy band group called the Bank Dogs and Veda Hille is their leader.
While not musical theatre in the traditional sense of the word this is a play with music that is integral to the storytelling aspect. Niall and Marcus, on top of writing the text, also wrote all the lyrics to the songs that are part of the production. These lyrics were then sent off to Veda Hille who was in Berlin at the time. She was immediately inspired by the lyrics Niall and Marcus had written and began working on the music right away. She even sang some of the songs for an audience while she was over there.
When I met up with Niall and Marcus they were already a week into rehearsals so I asked them both about the rehearsal process of creating Peter Panties. They both agree that it is a very collaborative approach: For example, the directors, Steven Hill (Artistic Director of Leaky Heaven) and Lois Anderson, might take the script that Niall and Marcus have given them, and then ask the actors to go and create a image based off that text. Both Niall and Marcus, can’t emphasize enough how awesome the cast is. Niall specifically tells me how he wanted Allan Zinyk (who plays Mr. Darling and a mermaid) from the very start to be part of his version of Peter Pan. The rest of this incredible cast includes Peter Anderson, Sasa Brown, Lesley Ewen, James Long, Tanya Podlozniuk, Adrienne Wong, Elena-Anderson Kirby and Oscar Youssef.
It is clear that this re-imagined world of Peter Pan wants us, the audience, to see this world of Neverland as world of many viewpoints and stories told from many perspectives. And, while this Neverland may have the pirates and mermaids like the original fairytale, both Niall and Marcus are quick to emphasize that this is not theatre for kids. As Niall is quick to point out this version of Peter Pan has “fighting, blood and sex”
So maybe, the question we need to ask ourselves as adults, when we enter the theatre to see Peter Panties is what would it really feel like if no one ever grew up?
Opening this Thursday, February 3rd, Peter Panties will premiere at The Cultch as part of the Push Festival and is produced by Neworld Theatre and Leaky Heaven Circus. Running until February 13th at 8pm with matinees on February 5th & 13th and post-show talkbacks on February 4th, 8th and 9th.
(Photos courtesy of the PuSh Festival)