Finding Neverland

The boy who wouldn’t grow up is coming to the Mumbai stage

peter pan, kids play, Theatre, Faezeh Jalai, neverland, prithvi theatre,

This fortnight, Mumbai kids will have the opportunity to visit the fantastic world of Neverland and meet such eternally popular characters as the mischievous Peter Pan, his arch enemy Captain Hook and the jealous Tinker Bell. The magical story of Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up, is being staged by Akvarious Productions as part of the Summertime with Prithvi festival.

In the play, Peter, Wendy and the Darling children fly off to Neverland and join forces with the Lost Boys to take on the nasty Captain Hook. “They will be fighting pirates, flying and meeting crocodiles,” said director Hidaayat Sami.

Since Peter Pan is all about flying fairies and magical lands, it’s a challenging story to adapt for the stage. Sami has wanted to mount a production of Peter Pan for a long time, but JM Barrie’s classic story isn’t easy to adapt for the stage. “Like how will you show the flying and how will you match foreign production values,” Sami said. Despite the budget constraints and the lack of technical assistance that discourage Indian directors from attempting fairy tales, the director and his crew thought long and hard to come up with some tricks.

The children in the audience can expect to see the actors do nifty rope tricks and mallakhamb, or Maharashtrian-style gymnastics performed on a pole and with a rope. Faezeh Jalali, who acted as a fairy in Tim Supple’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, plays Peter Pan. The petite Jalali is an obvious choice for the role – she learns mallakhamb at Shivaji Park in Dadar and can shimmy up and down ropes in a trice. Jalali has acted in several plays and movies, including Rohan Engineer’s Ursula, but this is the first time she will be playing a boy. “Traditionally, in a lot of items, Peter Pan has been played by a woman,” said Jalali. “In musicals, no matter how old the woman is, she can sound like a boy. And I don’t think of it as playing a boy or a girl. It’s about playing Peter Pan, who wants to be in this world of play and make believe.”

In addition to rope tricks, Sami’s cast of 22 has learnt fencing from theatre director Bijon Mondal and dance from actor Shivani Tanksale. Actors Anand Tiwari and Trishla Patel have been coaching the cast on how to behave like children. “There’s a very thin line when an adult is playing a child,” said Sami. “It could look crazy. Then even the child in the audience wonders why is the actor behaving so strange. We’d rather have them play young adults than do funny antics.”

Many children’s plays have a standard formula : throw in some Bollywood music for the kiddies to dance to, add some slapstick humour and get the cast to jump, fall over or perform outlandishly. However, Akvarious Productions are usually a departure from these clichés. Most of their children’s plays are adapted from storybooks. The group has previously staged The Shehenshah of Azeemo, an adaptation of L Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Mystery of the Pantomime Cat, which was based on one of Enid Blyton’s Five-Find Outers and Dog mystery: and The Adventures of Tintin, their first-comic book adaptation.

Peter Pan was chosen because it is Sami’s favourite story and he is looking forward to presenting it to both children and adults. “Peter Pan is a subject which even grown-ups would want to see,” said Sami. “I have a lot of grown-up people telling me that they want to watch it.” Jalali is excited about the children’s play too. “I love children as an audience, I think they are amazing,” said Jalali. “While adults are more reserved, the kids get so much more involved with the play. Which is why it’s actually amazing to have children in the audience.”

By Bijal Vachharajani on April 29 2011 7.08am
Photos by Parikshit Rao

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