We all know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up – right?
The National Theatre of Scotland recently premiered their new vision of JM Barrie’s classic at The King’s Theatre, Glasgow, with a grittier plot and stronger Scottish theme that connects with Barrie’s roots. The setting is relocated from London to Edinburgh, where Mr Darling is now in charge of the construction of the Forth Rail Bridge, which dominates the set. Peter, Hook, Wendy and indeed the entire cast have much darker personas than you might expect. This is no Disney reproduction.
With a script adapted by David Greig and directed by John Tiffany – the winning team behind the National Theatre of Scotland’s internationally acclaimed Black Watch – this iteration of Neverland is no disappointment. The set designed by Laura Hopkins and lit by Guy Hoare is exquisite, creating the perfect backdrop of Edinburgh before transforming in to various locations in Neverland. I could spend days describing and puzzling out the special effects by illusionist Jamie Harrison, but fear spoiling the production for anyone who intends to see it – they literally have to be seen to be believed. I will divulge (given that the marketing materials kind of give it away) that Tinkerbell is literally a ball of flame that flies over the audience, interacts with the cast and is passed from hand to hand at times: it is mesmerising and much of the interval chatter was “how did they do that?”. I have rarely sat in a theatre in awe of what can only describe as a true spectacle before me – I was just as captivated as all the children sat round the auditorium. I could also spend days praising Davey Anderson’s wonderful Celtic music and Gareth Fry’s immaculate sound design. They have created a unique sound of Scotland that is both ancient and contemporary at the same time, most befitting of Greig’s writing.
Kevin Guthrie is an athletic Pan, and clearly enjoys playing both the light and shade aspects of the boy who never grew up. Kirsty Mackay is emotionally charged as Wendy in what has become a very demanding role in this version. Gone are thimbles, kisses and frivolity, and in their place we find anger, frustration and lust. The most notable performance is Cal MacAninch in his dual role as Mr Darling and Captain Hook. Stripped to the waist like his rival Pan, head shaved, covered in tattoos and wearing a kilt, he is as far from the stereotypical portrayal of the pirate Hook as you can get.
The flying dynamic is very clever and very different from the traditional method, doubling to give the characters a unique way of leaping, bounding and Matrix-style fighting on demand. But it starts to feel a bit limited once you’ve seen the main tricks a few times, becoming less interesting to watch as the production progresses with the actors looking a bit stuck in the one place at times. The action and dialogue become a tad melodramatic and drawn out at times, eliciting a few tuts and titters from the patrons around me. But these are few and far between, and the pace is generally picked up with another collection of tricks that suck you back in. The plot is at times quite sinister and even raunchy, and you can’t help but wonder – who exactly was this production aimed at? Is it for adults? Is it for kids? I’ve been left with the lasting impression that it is most definitely for both, and really should be experienced by audiences of all ages.
Sky Arts – The Making Of Peter Pan
I held off submitting my review for a few days after seeing the production as I found out Sky Arts had filmed a “making of” documentary, and wanted to see if it might influence my opinion. I must say, it gave a fascinating insight in to the process and the approach taken by both Greig and Tiffany as they set about adapting, designing and reimaging Pan for a modern audience, whilst presenting an interesting account of the life of JM Barrie in the background. Hearing John Tiffany talk so passionately about reproducing elements of fantasy and imagination on stage is just as engaging as watching the play itself. He also shares his vision for the more dramatic scenes, especially the last one between Peter and Wendy; and I admit, the melodrama can almost be forgiven as I better understand what he was trying to achieve. It made me reflect on whether or not the whole vision had been delivered; Greig certainly seems to believe so, and hopes JM Barrie himself would admire the piece.
It is definitely a worthwhile venture, an extended “post-show chat” with the creative team, if you like, and has helped shape my final experience of the production. I hope Sky Arts produce more link ups with companies and theatre makers in this way to give us a deeper insight in to their creative processes.
I’ll sign off with a quote from John Tiffany about the special effects: “Everything that I know about young audiences is that if you try and hide something from them, they’ll catch you out. They want to find out the way you do things, they want to find out what your tricks are.”
This sentiment that could almost be the manifesto for A Younger Theatre. Now, tell us, just how exactly did you make Tinkerbell fly…?
Peter Pan premiered at The King’s Theatre, Glasgow, from 23rdApril – 8th May. It runs at the Barbican from 12th – 29th May before touring Scotland. More dates and ticket details can be found on the National Theatre of Scotland website: www.nationaltheatrescotland.com
This review was written by Kris, our Glasgow based reviewer. Twitter: oorkris