ChildrensDramaFestive 16/17ReviewSouth West

Peter Pan – Exeter Northcott

Writer: J.M Barrie
Director: Paul Jepson
Reviewer: Ben Miller-Jarvest

Neverland. The ticking crocodile. Wendy, John and Michael. Tinkerbell. Captain Hook. Peter Pan. The familiarity of these names and phrases to adults and children, even today, over a hundred years since the play first premièred is testament to the magic of J.M. Barrie’s creation. In their first recent solo venture, using a mixture of professional actors, actors in training and local children, Exeter Northcott brings this magic to the stage, with one or two twists, for their Christmas family show.

tell-us-block_editedThere are some wonderful touches, particularly when creativity is needed: the children’s bathtub is used as the pirate’s rowing boat, and their nursemaid, the dog Nana, is portrayed via a hand-puppet, puppeteered beautifully by one of the younger members of the cast. Also, the thorny issue of the Native Americans is elegantly and inventively solved by making ‘Tiger-Lily’s scouts’ into Boy Scouts, complete with fire-making, marches and pledge, and led by the commanding presence of Jessica Parsons’ Tiger-Lily. Steve Bennett, doubling Mr Darling and Tinkerbell, makes a good, blustering impression as the father, but it is his entrance, bedecked in sparkly pink, as the fairy, that gets the biggest laugh. Kerry Peers, likewise doubling Hook and Mrs Darling, preens and snarls effectively as the Captain, while Laura Prior makes an energetic Peter, and Macy Nyman traces Wendy’s development from child to grown woman excellently.

However, the undisputed star of the production is Ellan Parry’s magnificent design. The initial set is the children’s nursery, towering wall to the left, containing a window through which Peter makes his entrance, and, looming above and behind, a stylised projection of the night sky, with a moon complete with a face. Once their flight begins, these dream-like projections slip into stylised animations, while other projections are used to great effect, particularly to suggest the fearsome crocodile. Gradually, the nursery is taken apart, until finally even the back wall tilts backwards to become the stern of Hook’s ship. In a production where many of the darker elements are, by necessity, subdued, Parry’s designs, especially the animations, infuse Neverland, and the show, with a mystery and a dangerous feel that is needed. Indeed, Parry’s work alone makes the production worth watching.

The greatest issue with Peter Pan is, unfortunately, the script itself, which despite its wonder and originality is also episodic and awkward, while at times the dialogue is so clunky that even the professional actors struggle to say it convincingly. Elsewhere, there are some other issues. The combination of professional, training and child actors creates a large cast, and there is a very fine line on stage between directed chaos and cluttered disorder. The production is also let down by the decision to give some of the younger cast microphones, and others not, which means that while some are inaudible, others, though amplified, are still difficult to hear because they are rushing.

Despite these problems, Peter Pan at the Northcott taps into the sheer magic at the heart of the play. The younger cast members bring an energy and sense of joy, necessary for a family Christmas show, and, performed on a backdrop of Parry’s stunning design, this is a Peter Pan that will keep you smiling straight on till morning.

Runs until 1 January 2017 | Image: Contributed

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  1. Badly directed, dialogue too clever and too complicated for children, no atmosphere, many of the cast inaudible, story rushed but director makes some unnecessary scenes too long and tedious, no sense of humour. Feel cheated to have paid so much.

  2. I wouldn’t normally comment but feel I should, the brochure looked amazing, with hints of fabulous costume and greenery. On arrival the set promised hope! But the costumes looked nothing like this and it simply didn’t work…no atmosphere at all…supposed to be a family performance but didn’t engage the children at all…an old gent behind us got up at the end and said loudly “what a load of nonsense”…it kind of summed it up! Sorry!

  3. So disappointed, it has been years since I went to the Northcott so when Peter Pan co-incided with a visit from my 8 year old grandchildren I thought GREAT. However it was not made clear that it was not a pantomime but when we arrived I hoped that even though it was advertised for children from 6 years old it would be suitable., BUT what a farce. At the beginning the voices were inaudible, there was too much running around which looked like sheer mayhem. The stage and props were not changed from beginning to end, bunk-beds were used as ladders etc?????. Only background effects which faded into the mayhem changed!! As for Tinkerbell whoever thought that using an elderly male dressed in a pink tutu would suffice got it totally wrong,. As it was a Saturday Matinee the cost of the tickets were extortionate for the quality of the show, We were not the only ones to think this way as after the break none of the other people in our row returned. Come on Northcott get it right or close.

  4. Agree with all the criticism. Very disappointing. Only worth it for the backdrop. Such a shame as I wanted to see a good Peter Pan all my life and took my grandchildren to this one. Lacklustre comes to mind. It seemed poorly rehearsed and even the singing group could have engaged more with the audience.

  5. We agree with all the comments above. We took a 7 year old and two 8 year old’s who asked to leave in the interval. Acting was poor. Acoustics were terrible. Props were ridiculous. A waste of £120 – very disappointing.

  6. Very very disappointing for the Northcott who usually put on a fantastic show. Not sure what happened this year but it was lacking in excitement, energy and enthusiasm as the cast seemed to struggle with what they had to work with. The story for whatever reason was totally confusing to follow. Such a shame as the book is a delight to understand. We saw people leaving and people next to not returning for act 2! Is it worth the money – no not this year. I would suggest visiting your local amateur dramatic one for probably more giggles.

  7. Saw the production last night for my niece’s 13th birthday treat! Thoroughly disappointed. I totally agree with the comments above -terrible from start to finish. It became almost comical in that it was so bad. My children’s school productions are better produced, directed and acted. Don’t waste your money on going over priced and totally overrated , if you read the publicity information you would think that you had gone to the wrong production there was no comparison to what had been advertised, hugely inflated, from the stage props to the costumes, casting and acting thoroughly awful. Would have left if it hadn’t been for my niece! Totally disappointed. I question whether this was a professional production at all?

  8. I was very disappointed and my grandchildren did not leave the theatre with their usual happy faces. They did not like Tinkerbell at all.
    I decided two days later to try the Panto Beauty and the Beast at the Corn Exchange.
    Brilliant, though because we booked so late the children aged 7 and 9 yrs had problems seeing without standing.
    Next year bring the Panto to the Northcott please. A far far better performance and the grandchildren laughed and joined in from start to finish.

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