A little bit of pixie dust

2009-12-08 00:00

FLYING rigs, working with 12 young cast members and writing a new book and lyrics for a musical are just some of the challenges that ­Steven Stead has had to deal with in the lead-up to the staging of Peter Pan at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in ­Durban.

But all that blood, sweat and tears, will have been worth it when the ­audience is transported to a magical place where fairies exist, children can fly and a crocodile hunts for a pirate captain.

“We’ve done quite a lot of girly shows — Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella — which the boys have been dragged along to,” Stead said. “This year it’s Peter Pan and I think the boys will absolutely love it.”

The musical, which opens tonight, also marks the first time in six years that Stead and his partner Greg King have not staged a pantomime over Christmas. Asked why, Stead said: “We’d done five pantos on the trot and Greg and I just felt as if we were churning them out. We wanted to challenge ourselves and our actors.

“Peter Pan is not a pantomime­ ­story. It has its own magic, its own appeal and its own whimsical charm. And, I guess, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do … I think the story speaks to adults and children alike.”

Stead, who is directing the musical and was the first male actor to play Peter Pan in South Africa in 1992, has been working closely with Justin Southey on the music for the show.

“I have loved working with Justin. We have worked hand in glove and he’s put up with me being very demanding,” the director said. “I have really liked doing the lyrics. I had done some for our pantos and some parody lyrics for fun, but this has been very different. It’s been a wonderful challenge.”

In writing the book and lyrics he made an effort to write parts for ­individual actors. ­“In other versions of Peter Pan, Wendy doesn’t sing, but I’m letting Fran [Francis Currie, who plays Wendy] do a lot because she is so good. She’s a drama student and did a year of opera training … I’m confident she can manage eight shows a week and sing in a harness,” Stead said.

Currie is just one of the actors who has had to learn to perform while being swung across the Sneddon stage in a harness. Bryan Hiles who plays Peter Pan, Jamie Royal who plays John, and Joshua Arnold who plays Michael, also get to be swung around the stage. To help them get it right, KickstArt employed Action Safety, the team behind the flying ­sequences in the Madame Zingara shows.

Rounding out the cast are Darren King as Peter Pan’s villainous nemesis, Captain Hook, Shelley Mclean as Mrs Darling, Peter Court as Smee, Elisha Mudley as Tiger Lily and Marc Kay as Gentleman Starkey, all of whom were clearly having a ball when I watched them in rehearsal. And, frankly, that taster has made me hungry to see the whole thing — roll on opening night!

 

• Peter Pan can be seen at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Durban campus from December 8 to January 10. There will be two special schools’ performances on December 9 and 10 and a New Year’s Eve gala performance at 9.30 pm on December 31. Preview tickets cost R100 (R70 concessions), all other performances are R120 (R90 concessions), except the New Year’s Eve show where the tickets are R200 (R150 children). Booking for all shows is at Computicket.

WHO IS STEVEN STEAD?

 

Steven Stead graduated from the then University of Natal in 1991 with a BA honours in drama. His stage career in South Africa and the United Kingdom has been extensive, involving work as performer and director in more than 80 productions , ranging from classical drama and opera to musical theatre.

He spent eight years living in London, where he specialised in opera direction, joining the staff of the English National Opera in 1998 as a staff director where he directed several well-received ­revivals.

Since moving back to South Africa in 2004 to join KickstArt as executive director, he has directed productions ranging from Dangerous Liaisons to Cinderella , Popcorn , Winnie-the-Pooh , Aladdin , Oleanna and Shirley Valentine for the company.

This year he was named best director for both Wit and Little Shop of Horrors at the Durban Theatre Awards.

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