What it lacks in execution, Peter Pan at the Park Theatre more than makes up for with ambition.
In an attempt to prove that size isn’t everything, the 200-seat theatre has, for the first time, installed aerial technology to help its Peter and Wendy fly, but whilst the aim is admirable, the landing is a little rough. Unfortunately, flight is just another idea that doesn’t quite play out in this nice, but uneven production.
Even in its updates of J.M. Barrie’s text is the production’s spottiness evident – some changes deliver, whilst others very much do not. I, for instance, could have lived without the inexplicable change from calling Hook a ‘codfish’ to calling him a ‘cockapoo’, but a Peter Pan wearing Converse does work well.
In the cast, Natalie Grady stands out, playing a comfortingly maternal Mrs Darling and a watchable Smee, making the most out of her few lines and adding a lot of comedy just from a simple sewing gag. Nickolia King-N’Da as the title character is good at playing up Peter’s naïveté and bravado, but both him and Rosemary Boyle as Wendy seem to mistake speaking in an oddly forced sort of baby talk for acting as children. The fact that this is a play about imagination, therefore, doesn’t land as hard as it should – it feels too much like Peter and Wendy are all grown up and faking that innate wonder that should make this play fly (forgive the pun).
There are moments of greatness, but unfortunately these feel too wistful, as if we are catching a glimpse of what the show could have been with a little more chemistry. Alexander Vlahos, though miscast due to his youthfulness, shines as Captain Hook, especially when he interacts with the audience, but these moments are few and far between. I have no doubt that he could be a great Hook, but there’s something missing here, be it a genuine rivalry between him and Peter or a lack of depth and gravitas to the character, which is probably a result of the miscasting in itself (he looks the same age as the Darling children).
There are moments where the technical elements fail too. For example, the ticking clock of the crocodile who stole Hook’s hand is much too fast – it’s not always clear what’s happening as a result, even when the set is being used imaginatively. The flying, too, though impressive at first, soon loses its novelty and then it just becomes a bit unnecessary and ungainly. In a theatre as small as the Park, there is not much room for illusion and unfortunately, there’s not quite enough charm in the room to make the audience suspend their disbelief.
There are better elements – the fight scenes are well-choreographed by Christian Cardenas and the final fight between Peter and Hook is genuinely funny. Nana the nursemaid dog is a puppet in this production, and feels nonetheless like a living, breathing pet, conveying great emotion even with just a lampshade for a face, thanks to her puppeteer Alfie Webster.
Though I would have liked the show to capture my imagination a little more, the children in the audience did seem to enjoy themselves. The show worked best when it had fun with itself and the second act certainly exceeded the first as a result. It is a pleasant family show, but it just lacks that little bit of magic that makes Peter Pan so beloved in the hearts of so many.
Reviewed by Laura Stanley
Photo: Chris Gardner
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