The Public Reviews Score
Writer: JM Barrie, adapted by Ella Hickson
Director: Jonathan Munby
Reviewer: James Garrington
Wendy and Peter Pan is the latest of the RSCs Christmas shows aimed primarily at families; Matilda in 2010 was highly acclaimed and is still in production in both London and New York, but The Mouse and His Child and The Heart of Robin Hood in 2012 and 2011 respectively proved to be less popular. So how does this year’s offering fare?
Many people will claim to be familiar with the story of the boy who never grows up, of pirates and Lost Boys, and the Darling children who fly with Peter Pan to Neverland to fight Captain Hook. This is a story that has been in existence for almost a century, since JM Barrie first published it in 1902 as part of a larger work, The Little White Bird, where it was so popular that it was later adapted for the stage, and published separately as a book for children. If you think you know this story, though, be prepared for a surprise; for this is a story not so much about Peter and Captain Hook, but more about the women. Ella Hickson has taken the Barrie story and brought a different perspective, with strong reflections of Barrie’s own life; a brother who dies, and a mother who struggles to come to terms with it. Most good family shows work on different levels, with something for the children and other elements to appeal to the adults, and in this regard Wendy and Peter Pan hits the mark. We have themes of growing up and moving on, and of women asserting their right to be equal; but this is still a family production, so we also have pirates and swordfights, flying beds and fairy dust – and quite a lot of slapstick and visual humour. Director Jonathan Munby has worked well with his cast and creative team to bring the script to life, though it seems sometimes as though he has forgotten that the stage in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is a thrust with audience on three sides, as much of the action is directed solely towards the front, which leaves a lot of the audience looking at actor’s backs far more than is usually the case in Stratford.
Hickson has written a script in modern language, making it very accessible to the wide range of ages represented in the audience. It is quite a witty piece, with Tink (Charlotte Mills) in particular having some very funny lines which she delivers well with good comic timing. Fiona Button demonstrates a sound emotional journey as Wendy, a child at the beginning of the piece but much more a woman by the end. It is a shame that some of her lines are lost, when she tries to deliver them over audience laughter, but on the whole Button produces a strong performance. Opposite her is Sam Swann as Peter, with another strong performance on his own emotional journey; first trying to find a mother, then turning away from the final step as his feelings for Wendy grow. To add an extra layer to the piece, we have an additional element – the Darling parents (Andrew Woodall and Rebecca Johnson), and their reaction to their loss; they appear on stage intermittently throughout, adding little reminders that while the children are fighting pirates, they have their own demons to fight. Guy Henry’s Hook provides a suitable target for the Lost Boys, played here in a somewhat less scary way than is often the case.
The set, designed by Colin Richmond, is a wonder. It would spoil some of the surprise to describe it in detail here, but from the nursery to the Lost Boys’ home, the whole effect is a delight, enhanced by well-judged lighting by Oliver Fenwick. There is little here to frighten the younger audience member, and much to enchant. With a strong cast, and beautiful to look at, this is a magical production which leaves the audience themselves touched by a little fairy dust. Recommended for children of all ages, from seven to ninety-seven.