Peter Pan Reimagined brings a children’s classic kicking and screaming into the 21st century and far away from its comfortable middle-class beginnings. Instead we see Wendy and her brothers as children passed from foster home to foster home who have now found themselves living on a run-down council estate in Birmingham. Wendy’s grown up fast, developing defences and barriers as she takes on the role of career for John and Michael, but the arrival of our well-known hero Peter Pan flips their world on its head.
Directed by Liam Steel, a vibrance of modern youth is brought to the production that lifts the show from its dingy, darker beginnings. Michael Pavelka’s set instantly draws us in; made from recycled materials such as Persil boxes, tin cans and car tyres you can not only see some of the hardships Wendy, Michael, John and the Lost Ones face in their everyday lives, but the beauty and expanse of their imagination too. This use of what some might call junk also catapults the play into the lives of today’s teenagers; reflecting the growing desire to become more sustainable to aid the environment crisis. Pan’s hideout becomes a bright graffiti covered sewer and Neverland a court in a high-rise estate, once again placing the hardship of these working-class kids’ lives front and centre throughout the production.
With themes such as abandonment, addiction and working-class hardship, especially in our currently turbulent political times, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a very adult adaptation of the classic children’s tale, but this is not the case. The little ones in the audience are drawn into the magic of Peter Pans’ world as they have always been. The inclusion of music, rapping and the occasional fart joke brought joy to all of the children around me as well as the traditional applause to prove that we do indeed believe in fairies.
Cora Tsangs’ fierce, loveable and lost Wendy captures beautifully how torn she is between wanting to be a mother to her brothers and needing one herself. The tenderness and anger Tsang brings to the stage is effortlessly watchable as her distrust of the adults around her slowly fades, as she learns to love and be loved in return. Lawrence Walker’s loveable, childlike Pan is the perfect foil for Wendy’s harsh exterior, capturing kids imaginations as he takes flight on bungee like wires and soars above the stage.
One of the most ingenious aspects of the production of me is the use of Pans’ unruly and unattached shadows as set movers, wire watchers and overseers of the production. While keeping the attachment of flight equipment and movement of set pieces within the world of the play, you can also see a darker side as Wendy uses shadows as a euphemism for her own mother’s depression. The presence of the shadows onstage can also be seen as a reminder that times can get dark, but as Pan says just one happy thought will always lift you up.
Peter Pan Reimagined brings new vibrance, relevance and vision to a classic children’s tale. Deeply rooted in Birmingham every child in the audience can see a part of themselves onstage and join the magical journey along with Wendy and her brothers. Capturing kids’ imaginations while subtly raising modern issues of class, motherhood and happiness everyone will feel lifted as they leave the auditorium. Oh and you probably won’t be able to get the catchy rap ‘let’s build Wendy a house’ out of your head for days to follow.
Peter Pan Reimagined is playing at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 19 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Birmingham Repertory Theatre website.