Peter Pan - 12 January 2003

An old style illustrated book literally comes to life in this production of Peter Pan. At any moment the action could be frozen and the image could slip effortlessly back into the book. The whole production is in different tones of black and white in both the sets and costumes. The giant size set pieces are 2-D illustrations from mushrooms, treasure to a ships sails and wheel. Pieces are pushed on, carried off, come up from the stage or down from the sky to create the basic imagery of the scene. The sides of the stage were covered in black and white illustrated bushes, a ladder and the entrances were covered by images of rocks and bushes. Steps led up to the front of the stage in front of the audience and were used for many entrances and exits. The proscenium arch was used to show the passing into Neverland as scenes of London and space flew by and it was also used as the mouth of the crocodile. All again illustrated in the black and white style. Wendy's house was cleverly constructed as a big jigsaw from items of set which represented hedges, mushrooms and other items from the island.

The costumes retain the black and white theme and it is refreshing to not have the traditional green for Peter and red for Captain Hook. They are white and black respectively portraying the main aspect of their characteristics. Peters short trousers, boots and leaf jacket are practical but also set him apart as the leader of the lost boys whose clothes have a much more worn and lived in look. Peter's clothes never seem to age like their owner. Captain Hook had an outfit of black peddle pushers encrusted with gems and a high white wig which was as superficial as Hook's sincerity. His appearance as Mr Darling at the end has a matching jacket to the aforesaid trousers. The pirates outfits had many different influences from around the world but showed specific characters for them all and Smee with his knitted skull and bones scarf, odd lengthened sleeved shirt and his poor teddy bear (who was shamefully treated) finished off the pirate crew.

This production could be said to be semi staged but whilst I liked the simpleness of the sets and costumes and the illustrated book look a full production would have the expectation and need of a colourful storybook.

Claire Moore was the original Mrs Darling on the demo for Peter Pan and she has such a wonderful voice that makes 'Just beyond the stars' a beautiful song to start the show with. She brings across the warmth of a mother that the lost boys long for. She has a calmness which is the perfect foil for Mr Darlings slight eccentricities.

Lottie Mayor was an excellent Wendy, she had a very strong character, had great interaction with James Gillan's Peter and created a strong, yet unsure Wendy, who suddenly starts to feel out of her depth. She was both mother, friend and antagonist of Peter. Lottie has a lovely voice and the highlight for me was the duet 'One big adventure' with Peter. At the end she portrayed Wendy’s anguish so well as when she thinks Peter has forgotten her, her face and dreams crumble.

I thought James Gillan's Peter was fabulous. He had a charm about him, despite at heart being very self centred boy he learns much from Wendy, without realising it, about responsibility. She makes him think about the his responsibility to the lost boys and Wendy's safety but still it is a responsibility he refuses to handle in the end. James energetically bounded around the stage and created an extremely likeable Peter so much so you could forgive him his selfish ways. He had a believable quality in that he could be the leader and a suitably strong foe for Hook. He was able to show all facets of Peter's character and his 'There's Always Tomorrow' was excellent as he shakes off the past once more to return to Neverland. The song is tinged with sadness as though seeing Wendy grown up means he will never want to come back for there is nothing to come back for.

There was an underlying tension between Wendy and Peter from the start and each rebounded off the other. In the final scene where Wendy tries to get Peter to stay, you know it is because she wants him as part of her future and as Peter sees the grown up Wendy he has the realisation of what he has perhaps let go by. The fact Wendy is prepared to go back to Never Land immediately with Peter, as he doesn’t want to stay in London, shows that she doesn't want to lose Peter. I liked the end scene as Wendy tries to get Peter to stay Mrs Darling comes back in and she takes a step back as she realises that she may lose Wendy once more.

Susannah York was the narrator but also as the end reveals Wendy herself. In a way the whole tale is Wendy going back to her childhood memories and adventure. Whereas at the start she is merely an observer, commenting on the characters and situations, as time passes she is more present in the stories. She is never seen by any of the characters but hints of her true identity are there within the piece. When the Lost Boys are being read their bedtime story the narrator sits amongst the boys next to Wendy and as the young Wendy finishes the tale the older Wendy finishes the tale in silent unison. Once the children are back in the nursery she sits on Wendy's bed whereas before she has never remained in the action . When Peter comes back he places her cloak around her and her heart viable aches as she has to shatter Peter with revealing she is no longer the Wendy he knew. This moment also had a edge of happiness as from years of believing Peter had forgotten her Wendy realised that he never did. Susannah has a wonderful charm and energy about her, and her face is so animated that she truly sparks as Wendy.

Richard Wilson was Pan's foe, the dastardly Captain Hook. Hook is the quintessential bully who for all his words is at heart a cowardly pirate for he cannot face Peter on his own merits but needs the pirate crew to assist. His final running away epitomises that. Hook is a part which could be played very dark indeed but tradition is for ham and relish which Richard Wilson certainly enjoyed doing. I liked his Hook for he was larger than life but not too much. He had the appearance of a has been pirate and the song 'Rose tinted eyepatch' certainly showed the daring deeds which were carried out in the past but there is doubt of what the pirates could do these days. The part of Hook can be carried by an actor who can sing as the character of Hook is more important than perfect singing. This is in contrast to Wendy and Peter who must be strong, clear voiced singers to show their youth, whilst Hooks voice should show his age.

As a foil to Hook there is David Bamber's wonderfully comic Smee, with many faces. He's a pirate who hasn’t the heart to be a pirate and you can imagine he would be ever so polite when killing or robbing someone, if he ever could kill anyone as Smee considers his retreat not so but an advancement in the opposite direction.. The Lost Boys gang were very energetic and full of life. By having older boys the characterisation and singing was stronger overall and they created a cohesive group and a believable gang of children who had been children for years. But for all the roughness these boys treated Wendy, their potential mother, with a great deal of respect as they pray she'll stay. The pirate crew were excellent, all 7 by their costumes and mannerisms were easily distinguishable from each other and they had identifiable characters from the tough Cecco to the dandy Starkey

The pirate numbers were performed with a great gusto and energy as was the Lost Boys Gang song. The choreography must has been fun to learn for all looked to be enjoying themselves and the energetic routines and moves were excellent, really complimenting the style of the characters and the piece,

I found some weakness within the book and direction as the pace of some scenes did not have as fluid a flow as they might. The character of Tiger Lily was under developed and Sinta Soekadar did not create any real impact with the part and had no identity beyond her incidents with Peter. I would also have like to have seen more brother / sister interaction between Wendy, Michael and John once they are in Neverland as it is an adventure for all three of them and they would have had conversations / discussions away from the Lost Boys Gang and Peter.

The only true flying in the piece was at the end as Peter flew over the audience for his bow, the actual flying for 'Never Land' was achieved with the use of moving platforms and blue silk sheet to show the sky. This obviously didn't have the same impact as someone flying but the festival hall is a concert venue and not a theatre so the expectation to fit the flying facilities is not the same. As Never Land is such a great and uplifting song the effects are only the topping and the song carries you on a believable journey.

George Stiles score is becoming one of my favourites and is filled with great songs and for me it was just great to hear / see them begin performed by some wonderful performers. My favourite song is 'One Big Adventure' as it really exposes the relationship between Wendy and Peter, but Just Beyond the Stars (the lullaby Mrs Darling sings to the children), Never Land (as the children fly)and Peter's final song 'There's Always Tomorrow' are songs which remain in your head. Also to have the score played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra was great Anthony Drewe has a wonderful way with lyrics in that they don't sound like lyrics, you can hear someone's thoughts, observations and comments as though they were having a normal conversation. The songs are well constructed and words are sometimes cleverly moved around for example as the pirates sing 'if your swash that hasn't buckled in years' !!.

As long as England has a pantomime culture then baddies will always be booed and hissed and as Peter Pan is the eternal child story any production will always have to accept this and work to ensure that it isn't pantomime and this production manages that easily. These characters have many levels and this version is more about Wendy and Peter's relationship than Peter and Hook. There is an edge to the story, Neverland many seem the idyllic and perfect place for Peter to live as he has no cares about anyone else but the colourful picture he paints is not in the end the fairytale Wendy dreams of.

The whole cast gave performances of such energy which combined with the score and orchestra made this a great evening. It deserves a full theatrical production and I hope it gets it in this country soon as America cannot keep getting the full productions of Stiles and Drewe shows !.

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