sun 21/07/2024

Peter Pan, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - ensemble playing at its best | reviews, news & interviews

Peter Pan, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - ensemble playing at its best

Peter Pan, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - ensemble playing at its best

The boy who never grows up flies into the First World War

Peter (Sam Angell) meets Wendy (Cora Kirk) in a frontline hospital as their adventure beginsJohan Persson

This exuberant production both clarifies and further complicates the conundrum of Peter Pan. In any production true to Barrie there is an underpinning of sadness, an acknowledgement of the losses we must all suffer: children leave home and adult responsibility takes the place of childhood innocence.

And yet, despite the tragedies which dogged both Barrie's own life and those of the family who inspired this work, it is also a celebration of the youth and joy which Peter himself claims to represent. In this version, first seen in 2015, Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel mark the centenary of the First World War, making the poignancy specific by framing the story of lost youth with scenes set in a hospital near the Front. Many of those who died or were maimed in battle were, after all, scarcely more than children, obliged to grow up very quickly indeed.

Barrie himself frequently altered the play, first produced in 1904 and revived annually for decades, and he made further changes for the novel, Peter and Wendy, published in 1911. The story had originally grown out of play-improvisations with his young friends,the Llewelyn Davies boys, and there seems no reason why it should not be developed further, especially when the result is as satisfying as this.

Elisa de Grey puppeteering TinkerbellThe Darling household is reduced here to a dignified Edwardian figure who seems to represent Mrs Darling. The singer Rebecca Thorn threads through the action, expressing emotion  very movingly  in music, often songs from the Great War. This mother never interacts overtly with her children. Barrie "lost" his own mother when she mourned his dead brother, her favourite son, causing him to feel an inadequate substitute. In the years after the first success of Peter Pan, the five Llewelyn Davies boys suffered a series of tragedies. George, Michael, Peter, Jack and Nico were orphaned in 1910. George was killed in action in 1915 and Michael committed suicide aged 21. Peter Pan's cry, "Death would be an awfully big adventure", must have seemed dreadfully ironic.

The direction by Sheader and Steel combines the confidence and speed of a military operation with the gleeful energy and muddle of childhood. This is an ensemble working together with palpable, infectious enjoyment. Sam Angell's Peter is a coiled spring of cheek and daring, while Cora Kirk's maternal Wendy has the extra grown-up dimension of frontline nursing experience. Dastardly Hook (Dennis Herdman, pictured below, with Caroline Deyga as Smee) morphs from a martinet officer into a tin-can claw-wielding baddie.

Dennis Herdman and Caroline Deyga as Hook and SmeeThe whole operation is a joyful celebration of theatre. The splendid pirates  a ninja here, a French chevalier or Spanish hidalgo there  seem to have raided the dressing-up box. The rough and tumble fight in which Peter and the Lost Boys defeat the pirates  a cricket bat hits your bottom and you're dead  is a gloriously complicated set piece exhibiting the concentrated playfulness of childhood which spreads all over the stage and into the audience. Props appear to be improvised by soldiers in uniform conjuring gorgeous gas-masked mermaids or a crocodile snapping plank jaws. Beds, in Jon Bausor's clever design become poppy fields, a trench can be imagined into a lagoon. Tinker Bell is a customised lantern deftly manipulated and given personality by puppeteer Elisa de Grey (pictured above, right). The flying, done in full view, involves thick ropes and pulleys worked by some of those reliable "soldiers". It works a treat.

The overall effect, despite the constant intimations of mortality, is life-affirming. This production is seriously good fun.


The splendid pirates - a ninja here, a French chevalier or Spanish hidalgo there - seem to have raided the dressing-up box


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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