Writer: J. M. Barrie
Director: Timothy Sheader, Liam Steel
Reviewer: Cavelle Leigh
J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan is a quintessential children’s classic, about a boy, who like most of us, doesn’t really want to grow up. Wendy (Kae Alexander), John (Patrick Osborne) and Michael (Thomas Dennis) live their lives quite non-extraordinarily until one day Peter Pan (Hiran Abeyseykera) turns up, after which life will never be the same. His boyish and spritely demeanour is most charming as he futilely chases his own shadow (and attempts to flirt with Wendy). Though initially the sound isn’t perfect, when we become fully immersed in the opening scenes at quite depressing WWI hospitals, it comes to.
From their rather sheltered though apparently middle-class upbringing, they’re transported to Neverland, the land of the lost boys. Peter Pan tries to teach to them how to fly, and to “think happy thoughts”. Though it takes a fair while, once they master it, it is quite uplifting, literally.
The Lost Boys are characterful and funny, the introduction of Captain Hook, imposing and menacing. David Birrell is humorous and strangely likeable in the rôle, even more so as he stiffens, petrified at the sound of a ticking clock. Smee (Beverly Rudd), a female, was original and funny, as his long-suffering sidekick. The banter and interaction between the characters is comic and quick-witted, and certainly eye-catching. From a stricken hospital to the Darlings household to Pirate-ridden seas, the stage changes very little,though innovative use of props and sound effects, coupled with audience imagination, still produces the desired effect. The Lost Boys longing for a Mother is affecting, though a little out of touch today.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is stunning as always when the weather plays ball. Peter Pan, a light hearted and whimsical tale works perfectly against this back-drop. The set is of its time, when J.M.Barrie premiered Pan at the start of the 20th Century, as is the costume. Tinkerbell however, is portrayed rather oddly as what seemed like a giant lightbulb attached to a stick-man body, puppeteered, however, enthusiastically by Rachel Donovan. Though different, one is not so sure this worked- perhaps a human portrayal would’ve been better.
Like many classic children’s tales, Peter Pan carries adult themes. In this case children dying prematurely, as such never growing up and so immortalised as children. As could be said for J.M.Barries brother who died aged 14 from an ice-skating accident, and more prevalently young boys enlisted for war. This novel is and remains a tribute for lost boys and lost childhoods, and continues to be so. Gladly child labour and consignment are things of the past in Britain today, but it’d be naïve to think this true everywhere. For this reason this tale is as sad yet comforting as it ever once was. These themes are fortunately missed by children, who are instead awed by scenes of gravity-defying flight but are resonant for those who should be aware.
Peter Pan seen in the open air is a summer delight, an unadulterated tale in an unadulterated setting, enjoyable for all ages. This production doesn’t require a six-figure budget, celebrity endorsement or over-relied upon CGI. It is theatre, theatre that is very nearly perfect.
Runs until 14th June 2015 | Photo Tristram Kenton