Writer: Geraldine McCaughrean
Adaptor/Director: Theresa Heskins
Music: James Atherton
As Oxford Playhouse’s inaugural production, in collaboration with the New Vic Theatre, and after a refurbishment project spanning a total of three years costing £800,000, Peter Pan in Scarlet is the perfect show to fill this exciting and fresh new space. The show is adapted for the stage by Theresa Heskins, a long-standing director at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-Under-Lyme; from a story written by Geraldine McCaughrean, it is the official sequel to J.M. Barrie’s beloved classic, Peter Pan and Wendy.
The show begins wth the closing scenes of Peter Pan, where Pan, the Lost Boys, and Wendy, John and Michael all defeat Captain Hook, and the Darling children return to London with no-longer Lost Boys, Tootles and Slightly, leaving Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and Neverland far behind. Fast-forward to 1929and the Darling children are all grown up. Wendy has children of her own, John works in a bank, and Tootles (who, along with Slightly, was adopted by Mrs Darling on their return from Neverland all those years ago), is a doctor. Michael is referred to a couple of times, having been “lost” in the Great War, but the references to this are strangely fleeting, given the gravitas of what his loss really means, and it could have been expanded upon more – as such, it almost felt like an unnecessary detail.
The cleverness of McCaughrean’s story, however, is that it intertwines events in “the real world” with those in Neverland, showing the impact that the Great War has had on all the Darling children, with all its upheaval and devastation. The story may have the characters we know and love returning to Neverland, but it is a vastly different place, and the darker, more sinister undertones and pathos reflect this perfectly. The central premise of Peter Pan in Scarlet is that, if you put on another’s clothes, you become that person – and, in Peter’s case, if that item of clothing happens to be the scarlet coat of your old nemesis, Captain Hook, then the transformation can be quite unsettling indeed, particularly as Peter begins to lash out, threatening his relationships with his closest – and perhaps, only – friends.
As Peter, Isaac Stanmore is phenomenal; he captures Peter’s childlike wonder and exuberance perfectly; however, it is in the darker scenes, when Peter is overcome by the hateful presence of Hook, that Stanmore truly excels. His furious outbursts are searing, and feel incredibly visceral, forcing the audience to really question Peter’s actions and decisions against the others. Stanmore’s ability to move from one emotion to the other with such speed and skill proves that he is clearly one to watch in the future. Mei Mac and Michael Hugo as Tinkerbell and Fireflyer, respectively, are both fantastic to watch; Mac for her boundless energy and acrobatic prowess on the silks, and Hugo for his wonderfully expressive comedic delivery of every line. Rebecca Killick is a perfect Wendy, and her singing voice is absolutely beautiful.
It is Andrew Pollard, however, as the mysterious (and really rather sinister-looking) Ravello who truly steals the show. He is, at times, utterly chilling, particularly during his short solo song reprises, and the production’s final 20 minutes. When all the pieces fall into place, and the twist is revealed, it is an extremely unnerving moment, masterfully delivered with chilling effect, although the staging of the final dispatching felt a little bit too graphic (too much vicious pulling apart of a certain costume!), for a show aimed also at families.
The other stars of the show here are the staging, designed by Liz Cooke, and the music, composed by James Atherton. The sloped stage provides some wonderful levels during key scenes, particularly those in the mountains, and the creation of the deck of the Jolly Roger, using garden swings slotted together, is genius; allowing the set to move as if it really is the wave-tossed ship itself. Atherton’s music is the perfect accompaniment to this vibrant and exciting show, excelling in the energy of the louder, choreographed group numbers, but also perfectly placing slower pieces of music alongside quieter moments. Wendy’s song about imaginary tea is a particular highlight, as is Slightly’s blues performance towards the end of the show’s first half. A special mention must go to the entire cast here, really, for both their fantastic acting performances, but also for their musical talents; the majority of the cast both perform in roles onstage and play instruments throughout the show – no mean feat in a show as fast-paced as this.
This is a wonderful first show for the Oxford Playhouse’s newly refurbished space, with a phenomenally talented cast and production team, breathing new life into a much-loved classic with this impressive and ambitious sequel. The story is hazy in a few parts, such as the aforementioned Michael references, which is a shame, but the impressive staging, gorgeous music and wonderful cast make this show a joy to watch from start to finish.
Runs until 4 September 2016 | Image: Geraint Lewis