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.
There 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