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Peter Pan By J.M. Barrie at the Rose Theatre Kingston – Review

Not so much J M Barrie’s Mr and Mrs Darling but Craig Revel Horwood’s devastating put-down “disaster darling.”

Peter Pan By J.M. Barrie at the Rose Theatre KingstonEvan Place’s adaptation is way too Disneyfied, dizzy and distracting. Neither pantomime nor musical or straight drama this hotchpotch of a show simply fails to get going and left me wanting to go home. In the program notes, Evan explains that he wants to make a play about family and belonging. Fair enough. Write one. There is no need to play fast and loose with a classic. The attempt to make J M Barrie’s timeless masterpiece fit into a preconceived straightjacket makes for a double disappointment. On the one hand, this show will alienate lovers of the 1904 book and on the other, it won’t give those new to Barrie much to get excited about. It falls between two stools.

I’m not sure the creative team behind this show have a clear idea of who their audience is. For me, the show managed to be both rushed and shallow. There was little if any narrative momentum or dramatic drive. Everything felt episodic, hurried and underwhelming. I never felt any real connection with any of the characters. The songs were just crowbarred in, they added nothing to the storyline, and as stand-alone numbers they were bland, putting it mildly. The cast wore microphones which added to the distance between the audience and the performers. The Rose is a marvellous theatre with the audience wrapped around the stage in a semi-circle. I’m sure the acoustics would allow for the human voice unaided to be heard through the auditorium. So why the microphones?  It has the effect of making the actors sound distant and robotic. Intimacy is surely key to the theatrical experience. Bringing audience and performers together. This show did the opposite.

The excessive use of dry ice exacerbated the situation. It got so bad one person sitting near me in the stalls collapsed in a coughing fit and had to leave. My advice would be to ditch the microphones, dirty ice machines, the two reprise numbers and the interval and make it thirty minutes shorter. A straight run-through in ninety minutes flat.

None of this was the actors’ fault they did their best. Michelle Bishop as Captain Hook puts on a pleasing cockney slant with some Catherine Tatesque quips, puns and putdowns. Isla Griffiths makes for a spirited Wendy Darling. The contrast between her wanting to grow up and Peter Pan’s (Kaine Ruddach) determination not to was perhaps the strongest message the show had to offer. The Pirates and the Lost Boys never really got a chance to shine. The sets were either too far away or too high up. The lighting lacked magic or mystery. Shorn of the Edwardian context the costumes of the Darling children were neither here nor there. This gets to the heart of the problem with this show. It’s neither one thing or the other. Too earnest to be entertaining. Too modern to be true to the Edwardian original. The result is a middle-of-the-road John Lewis Christmas ad. If you like that sort of thing then this might be the show for you.

2 gold stars

Review by John O’Brien

Chasing his runaway shadow, a mischievous young boy crash lands through an open window and meets a headstrong young girl not yet ready to face growing up. With a sprinkle of fairy dust, they take flight on a whirlwind festive voyage over pirate ships, through mermaid lagoons and into the heart of Neverland.

PETER PAN
By J.M. Barrie
In a new version by Evan Placey
Music & Lyrics by Vikki Stone
Directed by Lucy Morrell

A Rose Original Production
1 December 2023 – 7 January 2024
https://rosetheatre.org/

Author

  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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