Writer: J M Barrie
Adaption: Ella Hickson
Directors: Jonathan Munby and Rupert Hands
Marking the end of The Playhouse’s 50th Birthday celebrations this classic, infamous and eagerly anticipated festive tale is brought to life in the theatre’s main house space. The Playhouse has a strong tradition of producing outstanding Christmas productions which have, in the past, been consistently brilliant. This particular offering has unfortunately missed the mark and not even a sprinkling of fairy dust can save its many flaws.
The premise then, hence the renamed show title, is to hear the story being told through the perspective of our heroine, Wendy. This contrived and often unclear concept both dramatically in its staging and within the writing, left this critic rather confused. She is an equal player in what is essentially an ensemble piece. In fact, this production doesn’t stray too far from other adaptations and retellings. The dynamics between each character lack any depth here though and, as Wendy takes on the role of ‘Mother’ her part becomes lost in the randomness of the action making this simple story perplexing and leaving the audience baffled.
This is most definitely a child-centered production but if you want to see the children fully invested in the performances the characters need to form deeper connections with each other. Peter Pan, played adequately by Pierro Niel-Mee, graces the stage with an almost contemporary physicality but random acts of silly playfulness kind of make you want him to grow up! Reminiscent of Marc James Wootton’s Mr Poppy in Nativity, and supported by ‘shadows’ in the guise of a Greek Chorus that frivolously move across the space with fluidity and poise. David Birrell’s lackluster Captain Hook is a weak and forgettable performance. He lacks any sort of impact and the scenes with Pan are void of suspense and imagination including the scenes leading to Hook’s demise which are as weak and as flawed as his entrance. He also randomly breaks the fourth wall in a panto-esque moment, and fails to land a “Boo!” from the audience. Hope Kenna’s Tinkerbell, who one could only liken to Sonia from EastEnders, lacked clarity and diction at times, meaning some of her dialogue was lost but the icing on the (Christmas) cake was Tiger Lily -done up to look like a Japanese Samurai, far removed from her meek and humble American-Indian upbringing. The “Crocodile” was also very disappointing. Played by an actor in Dickensian Steam Punk attire he slithers across the stage in moments which are played for laughs rather than scares.
The set, clearly inspired by Emma Rice’s Wise Children is colourful and there are some lovely moments within the lighting design especially in the scenes which require projections. Upon entering the auditorium the children’s nursery is particularly impressive. It is, however, the staging and not the stage that lacks any real imagination. There is very little theatrical magic happening here and the flying scenes were disappointing. In previous Leeds Playhouse productions like their wonderfully impressive Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, for example, in which they made an entire car “fly” one felt a little let down. Suspended by high tension wires and harnesses barely concealed by the actors or their costumes the Darling Children announce “Look, I’m flying” to which a young child in the audience audibly replied “No you’re not” to much amusement from the audience.
Runs until 22nd January 2022