A Peter Pan where the Darlings are in Nike trainers and Pan looks as though he’s just flown from Wicked’s Emerald City, this National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic co-production enthrals in its stage presence: the enchantment of childhood in an urban landscape.
It is always a joy to see how stage productions re-imagine the realism of film, and this performance is no exception. With bold lighting, a string band and mechanical puppets made from recycled materials (skips, watering cans and giant saws, to name a few), the fantasy is heightened by the transformation of the familiar into something wonderful and bizarre. Children and adults alike delight at the marvel of looking up to see the enigmatic Pan (John Pfumojena) fly over their heads, suspended by “fairy-string”. The mechanics of the magic are not hidden, rather Peter Pan encourages you to accept the thrill of make believe.
In a refreshing re-gendering, Captain Hook (Kelly Price) is a real treat as a female pirate adhering to the maternal theme of JM Barrie’s story, not to mention the deliciously Helena Bonham Carter-esque pantomime of her purple skirt and platform biker boots. The flatness of other characters, Tiger-Lilly (Jessica Murrain) and Michael (Ammar Duffus), is compensated by the comedic charm of Hook, Peter and the Lost Boys. Boasting a vibrant ensemble cast, the performance transports us from Lost Den to Pirate Cove with ease. In fact, where numbers are insufficient is when the skilled choreography of costume and prop (and costume as prop) excites and impresses. From a spatial point of view, the scenes are masterful.
Accompanying the success of choreography is the string band woven seamlessly into story, sharing a stage and often a theatrical realm with Neverland’s inhabitants. In a blend of bass, heavy reggae and ska, the usual tinkling melodies of the film soundtracks are given an edge which, amidst the steampunk set, work brilliantly. The pirate’s song, for example, induces multiple bopping heads and tapping feet amongst the audience. Although not branded as a musical, discounting a couple of the more warbling tunes that lack the power of the West End, singing interludes are welcomed and, with the band’s unique sound, thoroughly enjoyable.
At its core, Peter Pan is a family adventure that sets alight the wonder in minds young and old. Although we are all well acquainted with the story of the boy who never grows up, the performance is not trying to be ground-breaking, just entertaining. With its absurdity, mirth and, at times, campiness, it succeeds. “O the cleverness of me” is what Pan cries out after defeating his adversaries, and this visually striking production is justified to claim the same. But if nothing else, go for the sheer surprise of Shiv Rabheru’s Tinkerbell!
Peter Pan is playing the Troubadour White City Theatre until 27 October. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website.