In a crowded market of Christmas shows, Deborah McAndrew’s adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s seminal children’s story is unlikely to be the only Peter Pan. However, it is likely one of the only shows using aerial silks and diving so wholeheartedly into the story’s message of imagination.
The concept is a strong one; McAndrew (with Mark Babych in the director’s chair), has restaged this early 1900s children’s story in post-blitz Hull. The Darling children live in a house slightly fractured by bombs and the lost boys half-embody the stories of returning evacuees. The imagery, from Sian Thomas (costume) and Ciaran Bagnall (set and lighting), is incredibly strong. The period has been perfectly expressed in design. It is a beautiful show to watch, a true visual feast.
Unfortunately, the strength of the concept never fully reaches its potential. There are many spectacular ideas in Babych’s staging–the use of silks instead of the conventional fly rigs is a stroke of genius–however, many of these never fully fused with the show as a whole.
John Biddle’s score, too, fails to match the playfulness of the show’s aesthetic and staging. While there are moments of haunting beauty, it broadly pitches too melancholic. That said, the pirates’ number is wonderful, as is the cod liver oil and malt number in the first act.
Luckily, none of this detracts from the overall magic of the piece. Much of this is powered by the exceptional lead cast. Baker Mukasa is a thoroughly mischievous Peter Pan, athletic and charismatic; every moment he takes to the stage, he demands attention. Similarly, Vanessa Schofield as Wendy gives a powerful and engaging performance. The adaptation requires Schofield to drive the action of the play and she never misses a beat. Both are entirely exuberant.
It is Joanna Holden, however, who truly steals the show as Tinkerbell. She matches all of Mukasa’s mischief, adding her own brand of incredible physical comedy. Never has anyone seemed so effortlessly a pixie. Never have I been so excited to see what an actor did onstage next. She does more with a wink and a kick of her heels than many can do with a somersault.
Special mention should also be given to Jacob Butler and Aron Dochard who are lyrical in their comedy, a delight to watch, and a thrill to see interact with Ryan O’Donnell’s deliciously villainous Hook. Equally, Melissa Dean is in parts serene while elsewhere she is fearsome, a compelling Tiger Lily and a wonderful Mrs Darling. The youth company too, add sparkle and vigour to the play. Each and every member of the junior cast match their professional castmates toe to toe. They are dynamic and inseparable from the fabric of the show.
When it comes to Christmas shows primarily targeted at families, what truly matters is magic. Will children sit up in delight when Butler and Dochard sing sea shanties with them? Will they gasp when Mukasa swings on ropes? Will they long to go on adventures with Schofield? The answer to all of these questions is undeniably yes. This reinvention of Peter Pan is brimming with fairy dust and theatrical mystique. Whatever reservations I may have about the missed opportunities for exploration within the concept, McAndrew and Babych have brought a captivating story to the stage and showered it with just the right amount of pixie dust.
Peter Pan is playing the Hull Truck Theatre until January 4. For more information and tickets, visit the Hull Truck website.