It’s not often that one experiences a production so expertly written, cast, and executed that it’s a a struggle to write a review that doesn’t come across as straight-up paid promotion. And truth be told, Shockheaded Peter is perhaps not for everyone.
If you’re looking for a proper night out at the theatre—dinner and drinks in your suit and tie, polite conversation, and seated applause—then this isn’t the performance you’re looking for. But if you’re intrigued by something a little bit sinister and a little bit sexy that’ll have you clapping and stomping and singing along, in a venue where you might just bump elbows with the likes of Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, then Shockheaded Peter absolutely delivers—and just may be a top contender for the most entertaining production to hit a Boston stage this season.
The dark magic of Peter grips like an out-of-control carnival ride that doesn’t let go until the very last line is spoken (or sung). The performance is inspired by the twisted tales of Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter, written in 1845 to scare children into behaving. Peter pairs delightfully disturbing vignettes of naughty children with the musical accompaniment of Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys (arguably the only group in town who were born to pull this show off). Sickert’s deep, gritty voice sets a perfectly sinister cast over the mayhem going on onstage, while his band’s comedic timing punctuates the action with commendable precision. These songs go far beyond simple show tunes. Pieces like “Snip Snip (Suck-a-Thumb)” fill up the entire room with wild zeal, almost pulling audience members up out of their seats with the desire to join the revelry and sing along.
The cast makes excellent use of the Modern Theatre’s compact space, with a rotating box of a set that spins around to display different backgrounds, as well as opening up to reveal characters waiting inside. The effect is immersive and magical; suddenly, the Modern’s tiny stage becomes a Pandora’s box of possibility where an infinite number of mysterious creatures pop out from under floors and behind closed Victorian doors.
While the stories in Shockheaded Peter feature children, the performance is most assuredly more suitable for those who are kids only at heart. Grotesque caricatures are wickedly rendered thanks to the lurid imaginations of prop designer Seth Shaw and puppeteer Eric Bornstein. Giant cats, gun-slinging rabbits, and sharp-toothed dogs are brought vividly to life onstage, while the ensemble cast of Jacob Athyal, Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Lisa Dempsey, Jade Guerra, Amelia Lumpkin, Tom Martin, and Brooks Reeves manages to seamlessly transition through an onslaught of nefarious and zany ne’er-do-wells with tireless energy. Alexandria King shines, maniacally gleeful, as the show’s MC, drawing laughter from the audience at times with just a lift of an eyebrow and a naughty gleam in her eyes.
Shockheaded Peter, with all of its colorful nonsense and pure visual cacophony, embodies everything that makes theatre so purely fun. In a world that seems to grow more frightening with each passing day, where freedom of expression and creativity can result in violence, Peter reminds us of the reality that, yes, danger can lurk around every corner—but if you can’t escape it, why not laugh about it? There is both light and darkness housed within all of us, and in order to make it, all we have to do is embrace it. Peter calls out to the naughty child that lives inside each of us, who sat in the corner during time out and plotted exquisite revenge. It invites audiences to relive those lost years of imagination and wonder, to abandon proper social expectations and get lost in the night, in the stories, in the sound.
COMPANY ONE PRESENTS: SHOCKHEADED PETER. THE MODERN THEATRE AT SUFFOLK UNIVERSITY, 525 WASHINGTON ST., BOSTON. THROUGH APRIL 4. 12+/$25-38, $15 STUDENTS, PAY WHAT YOU CAN MARCH 15 $6 MINIMUM. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT COMPANYONE.ORG