The first half of Sally Cookson’s Peter Pan, co-produced with the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic, is stunning and wondrous. Showing strong technical skills and revealing imaginative and beautiful staging that nodded as much to (accessible) opera and ballet as it did to a pantomime classic, I beheld the children in the audience rapt and bewitched. I even felt moved and puffed to a sort of pride in this country’s National Theatre as the global leader in creativity. Come the second act, however, the expressions of audience members turned from enchantment to endurance. Perhaps cursed by its embarrassment of riches, this production throws so much spectacle – and a degree of earnestness about motherhood thanks to its centralising Wendy (Daisy Maywood) and interpreting the Lost Boys as traumatised rather than cheeky – that the experience turns from awe to impatience and the audience is de-sensitised and drained long before the final curtain. The flying is glorious, the costumes are resplendent and the use of props and puppetry are redolent of an entire class of award submissions. But somewhere as the hands of your wrist-watch nudge towards and past 4pm, it feels longer than its run-time and a bit like work. This smorgasbord of sensation would not be fatiguing in its own right if the heartbeat of the story, any single-minded story, continued to pound. Whilst still visually thrilling, the telling turns from essential to episodic (‘and then they’re on a pirate ship, and then Captain Hook is going to execute them, and then there’s a crocodile, and then Tinker Bell risks altruistic suicide to save Peter Pan… and then and then and then…’). You could be forgiven for mistaking it as a set of production design and scene study showcases, with lengthy interchanges between then, carefully and slowly spelling out every word and captioning every illustration of JM Barrie’s 240-page original text – which is a great pity. Each member of the cast, band and creative team are thoroughbreds individually but Cookson’s grip on economically using all this talent to serve a story is a little too loose.
I could list at least 20 specifically brilliant aspects of this production and the same number of inspired ideas explored in Cookson’s interpretation (along with Writer-in-the-Room, Mike Akers). But instead of adding up to a rich and layered tapestry, they seemed to unfold sequentially and felt like nagging cleverness rather than theatrical transcendence. The music by Benji Bower is funky and enjoyable and the band perform it wonderfully but it seems as if its almost too revered to serve as a soundtrack and thus is given its own space which further diverts, rather than enhances, the action. I applaud depicting Captain Hook as a woman and Kelly Price gives a stellar performance, drawing on her fine voice and costumed exquisitely by Katie Sykes, but her almost psychodramatic, expressionist interpretation belongs more in an intimate black box than the near-arena proportions of the Troubadour. Having begun its life at the Bristol Old Vic nearly seven years ago, this production was conceived in a space nearly a third of the size. The task of enveloping and inspiring the audience is not just one of scale but of focus and purpose. Multiple and extended dialogues about motherhood, enacted by Daisy Maywood as Wendy either with the Lost Boys or by Kelly Price dual-cast as Mrs Darling, are laboured and tiring when we need more rock concert than kitchen-sink.
I would still recommend checking out this production but with a few caveats. If you’re a literary purist and want to explore the darker psychological tensions of the JM Barrie original text, you may well enjoy the depth and duration of this production. However, if you’re considering bringing children under 10, have a think about their attention spans. On the other hand, if you are in the market simply to behold spectacular staging in its own right, you may well be inspired by this show’s exquisite production design. No matter what, Shiv Rabheru’s Tinkerbell is just plain fun – enjoy it and don’t overthink it!
Review by Mary Beer
All children grow up. Except one.
This summer, get set for an awfully big adventure as the National Theatre’s “unforgettable and delightful” (Guardian) production of JM Barrie’s classic tale takes flight at Troubadour White City Theatre, a brand-new theatre only minutes away from Westfield London.
When leader of the Lost Boys, Peter Pan, loses his shadow during a visit to London, headstrong Wendy helps him re-attach it. In return, she is invited to Neverland – where Tinker Bell the fairy, Tiger Lily and the vengeful Captain Hook await.
Bursting with magic, mischief, music and make-believe, Sally Cookson’s wondrously inventive Peter Pan is a funny and moving version of a much-loved story for audiences of all ages
PETER PAN is presented by special arrangement with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and Samuel French Ltd.
The cast is: Greg Bernstein (Ensemble), Matthew Churcher (Ensemble), Raffaella Covino(Swing & Dance Captain), Josh Donovan (Swing), Ammar Duffus (Michael Darling/Pirate), Jemma Geanaus (Swing), Philippa Hogg (Ensemble), Mark Kane (Nana/Tootles/Pirate), Richard Kent(Ensemble), Cora Kirk (Jane/Nibs/Pirate), David Langham (Mr Darling/Smee/Lost Boy (Twin Two), Nadine Lee (Band), Iniki Mariano (Ensemble), Daisy Maywood (Wendy Darling), Harry Miller (Band), Jessica Murrain (Tiger Lily/Slightly/Pirate), Loren O’Dair (Twin One/Pirate/Ensemble), Miles Paloma (Swing), John Pfumojena (Peter Pan), Luke Potter (Band), Kelly Price (Captain Hook / Mrs Darling), Shiv Rabheru (Tinkerbell/Curly/Pirate), Jools Scott (Band) and Alistair Toovey (John Darling/Pirate).
Peter Pan is designed by Michael Vale with costume design by Katie Sykes, dramaturgy by Mike Akers, lighting design by Aideen Malone, and sound design by Dominic Bilkey. Peter Pan features original music by Benji Bower, with movement direction by Dan Canham, puppetry design and direction by Toby Olié, aerial direction by Gwen Hales and fight direction by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Copper-Brown of RC-ANNIE Ltd. Casting is by Sam Stevenson CDG.
Based on the works by JM Barrie
devised by the Companies
a co-production with Bristol Old Vic
at Troubadour White City Theatre, 201 Wood Lane, London W12 7TS
20 July 2019 – 27 October 2019
Running Time: 2 hours 35 minutes