Batten down the hatches theatre-goers; it is time for a gender switch in a classic tale. Meet the 2020 version of Captain Hook: Laura Condlln. She’s ready to rock the boat with a female swagger at the Stratford Festival this season. “The world needs more female pirate stories,” says Condlln. “It’s important to have this complex, powerful man portrayed as a woman by a woman,” she adds.
Wendy & Peter Pan is a new adaptation, by Ella Hickson, of the J.M. Barrie book, Peter Pan. It opens on May 27 at the Avon Theatre with previews beginning on April 24.
In this adaptation Hickson puts an emphasis on the women in Peter Pan: Wendy, Tink and Tiger Lily. “It’s a female kaleidoscope,” says Condlln. She will play the Captain as a woman, with the pronouns changed and any references to Hook as a male removed. “The essence of the Captain is female,” says Condlln. “However I am not called she or her. I am only called Captain.” Her costume includes “killer boots” with heels, and she wears pants. “It is sexy, masculine and feminine at the same time. I am not saying I am androgynous, but it is interesting. We are not in gender fluidity but there is a strong person there that is being played as a woman.”
Directed by Keira Loughran, the story has other female plot lines such as Wendy and Mrs. Darling fighting for women’s rights, and the Lost Boys looking for a mother, whom they find in Wendy. “Playwright Ella Hickson adapted Barrie’s story with a subversive spirit; she believed Neverland belonged to Wendy as much as it did to Peter, and she actively cracked stereotypes that have been propagated through previous adaptations in ways that were both hilarious and surprisingly moving. I wanted to maintain that spirit in our production and Laura embodied it perfectly in her Hook. It won her the role; the trio of Laura as Hook, Cynthia Jimenez Hicks as Wendy, and Jake Runeckles as Peter, really anchor the 2020 Canadian première of this classic story,” says Loughran.
Condlln lives full-time in Stratford and she tapped a fellow Stratford actor, Jan Alexandra Smith (who portrayed Scrooge as a woman at the Grand Theatre, London in 2018) for some gender-switching advice. “I saw Jan as Scrooge and I have thought about that role a lot. Scrooge was a woman but she was very masculine. This challenge is totally thrilling and terrifying in equal measure for me,” says Condlln.
Her Captain Hook will “push me way outside of my comfort zone,” says Condlln. “What are we as artists if we are not treading into the unknown? And I am so grateful for the opportunity to do that,” she adds.
At Stratford, Hook will be hungry for possession of power. She will also be obsessed with Peter Pan — his youthfulness and energy. And she will be melancholy about her own aging. Condlln says she will draw on her own emotions and parallels about being a middle-aged woman in this reflective role.
“When we hit middle age we are in our prime, for sure. Should we be so lucky and there is time left, we start looking behind us too. There is a beautiful section in this adaptation where Hook reveals a deep yearning for more time. I’m interested in discovering what that means particularly for a woman.”
Watch for Condlln’s interplay with the ticking crocodile, and her regard for Wendy’s ambition, and dependence on Tink and Tiger Lily. This will be a not-to-miss female pirate story in a very special Neverland, reminding the audience that the complex desire for power is not tied to gender.