★★★ Never-again-land. Peter Pan Theatre Review.

Creative set at a high, acting and story-telling at a low.

What do you want from a show?

(And I’m rhyming. It’s been a long few weeks.)

Peter Pan is currently running at the National Theatre and will be until February 2017. A co-production with Bristol Old Vic, based on the novel by J.M. Barrie, directed by director Sally Cookson, this show promises to explore the possibilities and pain of growing up, the riot of magic, mischief, and make-believe.

I do believe this is a show made and aimed for children and children will enjoy it, however, if you’re going as friends or as a couple, and you don’t have a child or some form of young person with you, I’d probably give this show a miss.

I went with my theatre buddy and she loved the show and we butted heads a little bit when I was cringing and sighing.

The original story of Peter Pan is a magically poetic piece of literature that opens the eyes and imagination of all ages. There have been many adaptations famously on stage and screen and it is exciting to think you’re going to a world where children never grow up!

However, this adaptation of Peter Pan was as if Drop Dead Fred has kidnapped three stupid children, with a very colourful set.  This may seem incredibly harsh, however, this time, this show, I was disappointed. With this production/adaptation I feel, has missed the mark when it comes to portraying such a fun-filled, imaginative, thought-provoking story. Not every adaptation has to reveal the darker side of Peter Pan, but it was difficult to gauge what their point was. To entertain through set and sound? Then yes, this worked fine. I was visually entertained.

I cannot fault the set design and costume, but the narrative and acting were downplayed and the story felt lost. This production has a very innovative set design and this aspect didn’t disappoint. The actors effortlessly flew around the stage using harnesses, and the scene where they all fly to Neverland was incredibly magical; it brought to life the imagination and I felt alive. Other actors carried on props around the stage such as clouds and stars and it created a fun, dazzling atmosphere. I could feel the excitement and tension in the air when the audience thought the actors were going to fly and do fun tricks in the air. It does create a new dimension to theatre and I really enjoyed this.

However, when the actors began to speak and ‘act’ the show and story was lost for me, and I would have much rather watched them fly about the creative set. Then I think, well I’d rather be watching Cirque Du Soleil.

I do feel harsh because the set, the music and the costumes were fantastic.

The actors over dramatic, comedic use of ridiculously put on voices and large movements, felt as if I were watching a pantomime. This has its advantages, of course, its loud and slow for children to understand (although I did feel it’s insulting to almost dumb-down a story for children. Children can be clever and appreciate more than a pretty, big set.) The characters, for example, Tinker Bell was a man who didn’t speak English and was covered in fairy-lights. This was a fun interpretation, but it’s difficult to understand why it was necessary. Unfortunately, it made Tinker Bell serve no purpose other than to be a joke on stage. Hook was then portrayed by a woman, I understood the gender swap, however, again, Hook’s character felt more jokey than a fearful enemy. When both characters die, I didn’t really care. It wasn’t built up, it felt rushed; as if they were focusing on the ‘fun’ side of the story in Neverland rather than building character relationships and having a deep story.

Gender swapping is perfectly fine, when it works. It’s as if people are taking creative freedom too far, and are trying to different for the wrong reasons. Psychologically Hook represents Mr. Darling, the mean father figure, even in this production Mrs. Darling, was nice. The family was nice. Everyone was nice and friends. Nana, was played by a man and spoke English and this worked and it was very funny; because he was still treated as an animal and it felt like only the children and the audience could really see the magic in Nana.

There was no relationship between Wendy and Peter which is something, even children, are curious about. This was disappointing. The actor’s portrayals implied sometimes that Peter was a lot, lot older and was merely looking after the Darling children for a few days. As if, Peter is a babysitter. Running around the stage, playing the air guitar and then sort of having a little feud with Hook and Tiger Lilly. BUT LOOK AT THE AWESOME FLYING.

I will give the actors credit because I can imagine this show takes a lot of energy and enthusiasm to perform and fly every night, and you can tell they are having fun, which is always nice.

Neverland, (which took over 45 minutes to get there) where the lost boys live was bright, colourful, fun to look at and used the entire theatre space. There were levels for the actors to run around the space and create the energetic atmosphere, and this was fun. I feel this could have been a great immersive production; have fun with Peter Pan and the Lost boys in Never Land. (I totally would have gone to this as well.)

Tiger-Lily was an enemy-come-ally in this piece, which was a little confusing but the costumes of her wolf gang were freakishly great without being too scary. The actors used crutches to move across the stage and contour their bodies into different shapes and they wore big, dramatic masks. Another section where the costume design was pretty imaginative was with the mermaids. Even though they had legs, it was like watching a synchronised swimming performance, complete with goggles and it was very entertaining.

I never regret seeing a show, I think the theatre is a wonderful, magical experience, and I am thrilled that this is a show where people could take their children and have a fun experience. Maybe I’m being too sucked into wanting a strong story, but I wouldn’t see this show again and I am secretly praying for someone else to create an adaptation closer to the original book and explore the relationships and psychology further.

Special thanks to Jake Foreman for coming up with the title of this blog. I’ve been unwell and off my game but he’s always there with the wit and sass.


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