If sitting through a low-budget musical sequel to JM Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’ sounds less appealing than being devoured by a man-eating crocodile then, er, you’ll probably find plenty to dislike about ‘Lost Boy’.
However, its composer and director, the prolific Phil Willmott, has hit on at least one strong idea: suggesting the bloodthirsty glee of Pan and his posse of Lost Boys wasn’t just a childish phase but an Edwardian malaise. Set 11 years after Barrie’s 1904 play, ‘Lost Boy’ has the formerly immortal Peter (Steven Butler) entering the real world, where he reconnects with his old chums Michael, John, Slightly, Nibs and Tootles and gees them up to hurl themselves at German guns with all the élan they once summoned to terrorise Neverland’s pirate population. Only here, of course, there are consequences.
It’s an intriguing set up that occasionally resonates powerfully, but for the most part Willmott obfuscates the considerbale potemtial of ‘Lost Boy’ with tawdry melodrama and indulgent detail.
A ludicrously overwrought Peter-Wendy-Tinker Bell love triangle tramples over the more thoughtful undercurrents, and the two hours of ‘Lost Boy’ are overstuffed with 24 vaudeville-styled pop songs, with almost everyone in the sprawling cast getting a solo number of some sort, many completely tangential to the story.
The sublime silliness of John’s OTT second half opener ‘Jungian Analysis Dream’ offers a brief vision of how fun ‘Lost Boy’ might have been if it weren’t so hidebound by soap operatic portentousness. It also suggests that the show might benefit from its imminent transfer to the larger Charing Cross Theatre, where Racky Plews’s choreography ought to have more room to breathe. Still, I don’t believe this ‘Boy’ is ever going to fly.
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One of the most frustrating theatrical experiences I have recently had the misfortune of sitting through. Before going into the show's failings, though, I must first commend the live band and wonderful cast, who put in almost universally strong performances whilst battling against the overwrought, tacky and tonally confused world on stage around them.
With such an interesting theme at its core, this should have been a thought-provoking and moving piece. In reality, Phil Willmott's fascination with the death of innocence apparently extends very little beyond innuendo and incongruous sexual 'humour' which is laid on with all the subtlety of a ballistic missile. When combined with a laughably melodramatic love triangle (the Act 1 finale wouldn't feel out of place in an Eastenders Christmas special) and only cringe-worthy caricatures where characters should be, all this only serves to bury any potential for narrative or thematic depth.
The only glimmer of hope comes in the form of a few scenes set in the trenches of World War One. It is here that Peter's lost boys must truly face their new-found mortality and challenge their gung-ho leader's stubborn refusal to back down in the face of overwhelming odds. The pirates of Neverland, after all, were never equipped with machine guns and mustard gas, and it is in this crushing reality which Peter struggles to grasp that the show's concept begins to emerge. These scenes though are sadly few and far between and eventually succumb to Willmott's relentless overuse of camp music hall cliché in what feels, at times, like a bizarrely misjudged homage to Joan Littlewood's classic 'Oh What a Lovely War'.
Fussy, unpleasant lighting perfectly compliments the fussy, repetitive choreography and completes a frankly headache-inducing stage picture which completely overwhelms the simple but rather effective set. A little more thought and far fewer frills might have allowed the set to serve its purpose as an unobtrusive backdrop to what could have been an interesting, poignant human drama. Unfortunately, what we are left with is nothing of the sort.
An amazing and effective production. The link woven between the story of Peter Pan, the death of JM Barry's adopted son during the war in 1915 and the naive view of the glory of war which sent thousands of young men to be slaughtered is a thought provoking and original piece of theatre. Many of the cast were outstanding in their acting and vocal renditions and the direction, music and effective expression of the death of innocence amongst other themes were second to none. Would see this again and highly recommend.