Peter Pan is a childhood adventure we’re all familiar with, be it the musical Disney version, the popular Christmas play or perhaps even the forthcoming epic drama ‘Pan’ which adheres to the current trend for bringing beloved tales to life with more humanity, more reality and fewer songs.
While last year’s Lost Boy Musical divided audiences with its World War I theme that was more about the boys’ sexuality and their life after Neverland, directors Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel have chosen instead to amalgamate the characters’ childhood and adulthood.
What this gives us is a surreal story where British soldiers fight in the trenches as children duel with pirates in a play area that forces us all to use our imagination and relive our childhood. The concept is fantastic, as no doubt John and Michael may well have fought overseas during the war. Wendy (Kae Alexander) meanwhile is a nurse who reads to the wounded.
This is how we are reminded of Peter Pan. John Darling (Patrick Osbourne) is in bed with bandaged eyes, as is Michael (Thomas Dennis), but he has a book under his pillow. Wendy picks it up and begins the story, then asks the boys to open their eyes. Then we are thrust back to the nursery of the Darlings, although we do miss Nana. Their parents too are absent, although Mrs Darling is perhaps present in Melanie Pappenheim who walks among the scenes singing nursery rhymes and war songs to broach the gap between fantasy and reality.
There is also no Tiger-Lily, which seems a shame as most of the play is very true to the story. What lets this production down is the script itself. At times it’s Shakespearean, others very modern and occasionally very euphemistic. It’s a shame because the staging is inspired – Wendy’s house is created using the soldiers’ beds and pieces of the trench and simple painted drapes for walls inside the treehouse.
Acting is varied, with fantastic performances from Beverly Rudd as Smee who provides the main source of comedy (aside from the euphemisms) and David Birrell (Captain Hook) who seems to be modelled on General Melchitt from Blackadder. Kae Alexander is also good, finding a balance between being a grown-up and then a little girl pretending to be one.
The Lost Boys seem to struggle with being children with a lack of expression in their voices. Their enthusiasm and energy is impressive and the movement is quite childlike, but the vocal is disappointing.
As for Peter Pan (Hiran Abeysekara), he conforms to the cocky arrogant Pan we expect, but almost too much so he is not at all likeable and lacks a certain charisma we expect from the character.
The flying is disappointing at first as the harnesses are a bit too obvious but once the sun sets it does become slightly magical and no doubt the children in the audience found it so.
While it is a fresh and unique take on J.M. Barrie’s classic story, it just doesn’t have enough magic to offset the more serious backstory until the sun goes down.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Peter Pan is playing at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre until 14 June 2015. Click here for tickets