Director: Nele Van Den Broeck
Musical Director: Emma Oliver Trend
Reviewer: Kris Hallett
In the year 2138, the dog-eat-dog world has taken hold in London, only the busy people have survived and these successes are far too busy to raise a family. Yet what do they do when they feel the need to have that child, for example, for a Sunday morning kick about in the garage? Neverland Enterprise with its crusading CEO Peter Pan and his ever-loyal servant Tinkerbell can step in, providing perfect children for any occasion. As Wendy Darling finds herself increasingly ignored by her overworked accountant father she decides to run away to Neverland and make herself available to any family that wants her. Meanwhile, in the background, Hook and her band of pirates wait, looking to kidnap these kids for hire away. A melting pot of discovery lies ahead.
It’s an interesting choice to relocate JM Barrie’s classic tale into the future. Its focus on the transition from childhood into adulthood seems especially pertinent in a world where it is all separated family units and childcare is juggled around careers. If kids have always been a little wary of growing up, the world around them now has never looked so uninviting to grow up in. In a world of Instagrammed dinners and home and country homes is it any wonder, this piece suggests, that Peter loans these kids out on the premise they are perfect. Like Wendy in the original had to learn how to grow up and discover her burgeoning sexuality, here children have to learn to embrace their flaws and note that perfection does not exist.
Youth theatres have never been so good as they are now, from the National Theatre connections programme to young companies at the heart of most ACE core funded theatres, many produce work as sharp and sophisticated as anything made by their professional counterparts. Which makes How To Fail, a slight disappointment. It’s a work led by director Nele Van Den Broeck and
musical director Emma Oliver Trend and devised by the company, yet its script could do with being smarter and sharper. Its musical numbers are catchy yet kind of generic and its final wrapping up is saccharine even for children’s theatre. Kids today embrace death in Disney and fights to the death in Hunger Games, yet the mood here is more Famous Five and a little bit too jolly for its own good. Barrie’s original play is darker than this.
Its cast tackles it with gusto and its a delight to see such a multi-ethnic group fall for the age-old magic of putting on a show. In one of the more delightful moments, kids fire questions to Wendy in their own language so that the Edwardian world that Barry exhibited disappears into the multi-sensory world we live in today and is being constantly threatened. Special mention must be made to the girl playing Tinkerbell (no cast, lists were made available) whose poise and tone suggest a performing career could be ahead of her.
Putting youth work on the main stages of Latitude should be a definite, but this is work that doesn’t demonstrate the very cream that youth theatres up and down the country are producing. It should be opening eyes, not coming across as a bit of a chore. A slight miss
Image: Victor Frankowski