2 December 2016
Peter Pan, J M Barrie’s eternal story of the boy who would never grow up has come to the National Theatre in a new co-production with the Bristol Old Vic. This is no traditional telling of the tale, rather it is a streetwise re-telling utilising hands on story-telling, exciting staging and a very sinister female Captain Hook!
With this Peter Pan, Director Sally Cookson, Set Designer Michael Vale and Costume Designer Katie Sykes have created an enormous playground where disused skips, old tyres, milk crates and other ephemera are utilised to create Neverland, it’s gritty and quite magical.
When it comes to flying, there are no invisible wires here, the playfulness of the show extends to a system of ropes and flying harnesses that have the cast flying around with fellow cast members acting as counterweights. Watching these human counterweights bounce up and down the enormous stage scaffold framework can be every bit as magical as the central characters flying. Gone is Tink’s fairy dust in favour of fairy string, it’s not balletic by any stretch of the imagination but it certainly looks like fun.
Anna Francolini takes on the dual roles of Mrs Darling and Captain Hook, she’s a delightful Mrs Darling, but as Captain Hook she’s creepy and more than a bit scary. She has some wonderful comic moments, but my over-riding memory of her will always be her opening of Act Two dressing scene where she is re-assembled hair, hook and all by Smee. It’s an interesting take and the character doubling concept was apparently Barrie’s. It work’s for most of the time but the jury is still out here.
As Peter Pan, Paul Hilton is cocky, confident and a perfect Pan, balanced again Madeleine Worrall’s almost near traditional Wendy, it makes the dynamic of their relationship just that bit more dangerous. Their Act Two aerial ballet to the Carpenter’s Close To You was just great.
Saikai Ahamed’s Tink was nothing short of insane, reminding me in part of Lee Bowery with his spikey wings and fairy light-laden crash helmet, and in part of the wonderful physical comedy of Andrew Sach’s Manuel.
Felix Hayes as Smee, Mister Darling, and one of the lost boys is suitably sinister, bombastic and just plain perfect. He and Laura Cubitt’s Bike Pump wielding twins were a delight. Ekow Quartey was a spectacular Nana, and an even more loveable Tootles that could be wished for. With MGM style aquatic mermaids, scary wolves and a ginormous croc this Peter Pan had everything you could possible wish for.
At two hours thirty minutes including an interval, I was concerned this might be a bit long for younger children, but I needn’t have feared, they screamed with laughter and lapped up every moment of this fantastic tale. It’s a wonderful production that will delight audiences of all ages and had all of us clapping to show that we really do believe in fairies.