Listen: Jay Laga’aia chats to Katrina Roe about his new play, ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’.
If shows like Noises Off or The Play that Goes Wrong have tickled your fancy, you need to know about Peter Pan Goes Wrong.
It’s a physical comedy of farce, slapstick and theatrical mayhem delivered with split-second timing.
Jay Laga’aia (pictured above), best known for his roles in Star Wars and Play School and his fabulous children’s music, stars as the Narrator.
“When I come out, kids automatically recognise who I am (from Playschool) and then I’ve got a storybook in my hand and we start the story, and they think ‘Great, Uncle Jay’s going to tell us a story!’,” he said. “And we go on this amazing journey which tends to go wrong.”
“It’s one of the few plays I’ve worked on (and I’ve done The Lion King and Wicked and Shrek), …where you realise, if you’re not concentrating you will die. If you just have a bit of a daydream, something’s going to hit you out of the sky!”
Jay says the production is suited to anyone from age 5 to 90, but he has particularly enjoyed seeing men, who are often dragged to the theatre by their wives, laughing out loud.
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“The greatest discovery I’ve found is hearing fathers and men laugh. ‘Cause Mums will come out and they will have a great time, but just to hear men laugh to the point where they’re slapping their thighs,” he said.
“The joy of the show is just hearing laughter… As their children laugh watching Peter Pan, the adults are laughing at watching this farce, which I think is fantastic!”
As well as working as an actor and musician, Jay has been teaching acting at Excelsia College, where the students benefit from having a tutor with more than 20 years’ experience in the industry.
Jay says it’s a joy to try to impart some of the training that he has received.
“The greatest discovery I’ve found is hearing fathers and men laugh. The joy of the show is just hearing laughter. “
“What I try to tell them is: ‘Choose a job you really enjoy and you’ll never work a day in your life’,” he said. “It is about choosing something that you love. And as far as acting is concerned, I try to tell them, ‘I’m not trying to teach you about acting, I’m trying to teach you about life’.
“Because then you can use that in all aspects of your existence as you grow up. Most importantly, you have to first and foremost tell your stories. And for me it’s always trying to tell them, ‘If you’re not willing to invest in yourself, why should I invest in you?’ And that’s not about spending money, that’s about turning up and being present. That’s about being excited about each day. That’s about saying please and thank you. That’s about smiling.
“From my point of view, those are life skills that translate to the stage, because automatically you resonate. There’s a charisma about you that your audience will sit and watch you, even though you may not have any lines.”
For people of faith who want to work in the industry, Jay says it pays to remember that your body is your temple, “And do the best you can. If you shine on everyone, everyone will grow. What I try to tell them is, you are only able to reach these heights if you carry each other, if you lift each other up.”
When the show wraps up in mid-March, Jay will be working on an exciting new project with Tim Finn and Teddy Tahu Rhodes in New Zealand.
“Tim Finn is writing an opera about the travels of Captain Cook and a lot of people don’t realise that there was a Tahitian navigator who travelled with Captain Cook as he went through the South Pacific, and I am workshopping that role,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to it. The biggest issue I’m having at the moment is making sure I’ve got people to cover my classes!”
In the meantime, Jay is enjoying making people laugh in Peter Pan Goes Wrong.
“It’s lovely to watch people just sit and slowly watch the show disintegrate in front of them and just laugh at the absurdity of it.”
Jay Laga’aia stars in a new production of Peter Pan Goes Wrong. It’s showing the Lyric Theatre from the February 13 to March 3.