‘Peter Pan’ review

Theatre, West End
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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The Open Air Theatre's darkly spectacular ‘Peter Pan’ is back

It’s a welcome return to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre for Timothy Sheader’s and Liam Steel’s 2015 interpretation of JM Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’. In this production, bookended by scenes in a field hospital near the Somme, it’s the horror of the First World War knocking on the window.

The production begins with a nurse reading the opening pages of ‘Peter Pan’ to the frightened, wounded men gathered around her on beds in her ward, before transforming into the adventures of Neverland. The actors playing the injured men become the Lost Boys, their nurse becomes Wendy.

The effect is thrilling and haunting in equal measure. Sheader and Steel have taken the melancholic undertone of Barrie’s tale of lost babies and open windows and applied it to a generation of boys lost to war. The colourful make-believe that follows – the children who refuse to grow up – is painfully poignant, a refuge.

But this production is as light on its feet as Peter, whose bubbling energy and thoughtlessness are brought charismatically to life by Sam Angell. A combination of deft direction and super harness work sees the cast seemingly effortlessly swoop and wheel through the air. Meanwhile, Jon Bausor’s sumptuous set design captures the crayon-scrawl glee of a playroom let loose on stage.

The cast seize their roles with relish and bring an infectious japery to proceedings, from the Lost Boys to Hook’s pirates. The latter are an inspired mishmash of vikings, knights and chevaliers – exactly the type of shared universe of baddies a kid might invent. Caroline Deyga steals scenes as a Sarah Millican-like Smee.

Dennis Herdman, meanwhile, brings a Blackadder-like quality to Hook. He’s a fun, caricaturist’s portrait of arched eyebrows, barked orders and brittle ego. But his officer’s uniform, like the prosthetic arm he wears, is also the real world breaking through the fantasy. The makeshift crocodile that stalks him is carried by soldiers.

War is a drumbeat on the horizon here. It’s in the gasmask-wearing mermaids and the desk-lamp design of Tinkerbell (a visually delightful puppet, characterfully operated by Elisa de Grey). Fittingly, it’s Cora Kirk’s empathetic, no-nonsense Wendy who gets this – both as a little girl on the cusp of adulthood and as a nurse, one of the unsung heroes of the battlefield.

The final scene may be a little on the nose, but this production has earned it, with its bittersweet joyfulness. We can’t stay children forever. Surviving life – made even more precious in its loss – is an awfully big adventure.

By: Tom Wicker

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