All children grow up and they soon know it, we are told at the beginning of the National Theatre’s big Christmas show, Peter Pan, a co-production with the Bristol Old Vic.
A kiss might still be a thimble but there’s much else not the same as usual in this production. Tinkerbell is a chap in a tutu, the dog is a man in frills, Mrs Darling is Captain Hook, the children are adults and Wendy is both a girl and mother. Peter Pan’s a punkish, anarchistic character, played by Paul Hilton with edgy charm and a touch of northern accent. His favourite colour is green and he thinks a sewing needle is a weapon.
During the first half of the show, the action builds as entertainment with a series of vignettes, a musical interlude in each, sung by members of the cast and accompanied by a versatile live band moving from rock to reggae to ballads. There’s humour, sometimes touches of pantomime. The entrances and exits are often spectacular and there’s a great deal of flying going on, with the mechanisms not hidden because this is a show in which you
are expected to use your imagination. Because, although there are some magical special effects, Director Sally Cookson has made drama, rather than a show for the very young. (Suitable for 7+)
There’s a particularly clever scene in which the raging deep blue sea is represented by nothing more than moving blue ribbons. The siren mermaids occupying this convincing sea are described as beautiful, although they don’t all look the Disney same. Wendy’s brother John gets given a snake bite by Peter as a punishment when he says she’s only a girl.
Among the pirates and the Lost Boys what it is to be female is a theme of this production.There’s a riveting scene where Anna Francolini, beautiful and charming as Mrs Darling, appears on stage undressed, to assume before our eyes the character and costume of the villain, Hook in which she is thrilling.
There’s much yearning onstage for the benefits a loving mother brings, the Lost Boys adopting Wendy as their mother because she’s a ‘lady”. She fulfils that role for a while but although she’s good natured and they’re happier, it’s a burden.
The theme of motherhood is further explored in the second part of this production, which transforms from light entertainment into drama, rich and deep and poignant.
We learn that Peter Pan had a bad mother, perhaps she was like him in character, or perhaps he is how is, unwilling to grow up, unable to accept Wendy’s love because of the way he was mothered, because Peter is commitment phobic. “Remember. Always be waiting,” he says to Wendy. We have reached adult territory here. Her longing for him beautifully described by Madeleine Worrall, who plays Wendy, in a song, ‘Suddenly I’m Getting Older’. What a voice she has.
Wendy is played by Miss Worrall as sweet and diligent, a more traditional nineteen fifties type character than most of the rest onstage. It’s confusing at first, to get used to distinguishing between Wendy as a girl and the adult mother she has become, without the assistance of say, costumes or props but, by the end of the show, Miss Worrall has won her audience over. The duality between what she is and what she once was, is significant, part of what makes this production extraordinary and relevant to every member of the audience, whether still a child or once a child but now an adult.
A special mention should go to Tinker Bell, Saikat Ahamed, who may not, at first, be the fairy everyone wants but, because of his charm, by the end no one wants to lose. His signature cry of, ‘Oh no!’, being echoed by younger members of the audience. Felix Hayes plays a number of parts, including a delightful Mr Darling and the sinister pirate Smee in a bowler hat, giving a most effective speech in the spotlight, reminiscent in that moment of Shakespearian drama. Ekow Quartey, as Tootles, one of the Lost Boys, creates affection and warmth for his character.
This Peter Pan is a wonderful show about growing up and what that means, even if you haven’t yet, whatever your age.
Review by Marian Kennedy
All children, except one, grow up…
This winter, JM Barrie’s much-loved tale takes flight. When Peter Pan leader of the Lost Boys, loses his shadow during a visit to London, headstrong Wendy (Madeleine Worrall, Jane Eyre) helps him re-attach it. In return she is invited to Neverland – where Tinker Bell the fairy, Tiger Lily and the vengeful Captain Hook, played by Sophie Thompson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Four Weddings and a Funeral) await.
Following the acclaimed Jane Eyre, Sally Cookson brings her wondrously inventive Peter Pan to the NT after a sell-out run at Bristol Old Vic. Exploring the possibilities and pain of growing up, it’s a riot of magic, mischief, music and make-believe.
at the Olivier Theatre, National
South Bank, London, SE1 9PX
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes including an interval