sun 26/05/2024

Peter Pan, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Peter Pan, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Peter Pan, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Eloquent wartime reimagining of Barrie's play is a magical experience

'To die would be an awfully big adventure': Peter Pan (Hiran Abeysekera) battles Hook (David Birrell)Tristram Kenton

“All children, except one, grow up.” So begins J. M. Barrie’s iconic tale of arrested development, given new power and poignancy in this high-flying production. A century after one of Barrie’s youthful collaborators, George Llewelyn Davies, was killed at Ypres, it tells their familiar story through the prism of the brutalising First World War, in which context Peter’s neverending youth becomes an escapist beacon.

Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel’s rich reimagining opens with wounded soldiers, far from home, tended by reassuringly maternal nurses – there are enough mother issues in Barries play to fuel a decade-long Freud symposium. Kae Alexander’s nurse distracts her charges with Peter Pan, and the eponymous character (Hiran Abeysekera, pictured below) materialises, drawn by Mrs Darlings similar recitation of fairy tales. As we shift fluidly into fantasy, Alexander becomes Wendy, another natural carer, who, with brothers John (Patrick Osbourne) and Michael (Thomas Dennis), flies away to Never Land.

Peter Pan, Regent's Park Open Air TheatreTheres a well-struck balance between riveting action  notably an epic battle – and indication of make-believe. In Jon Bauser’s textured design, beds become grassy hills, a house, an ever-shrinking rock in the lagoon; the children playact adult roles; and the vanquished rise from the dead, only their pride hurt. Captain Hook’s (David Birrell) motley crew raid the dressing-up box, offering everything from ninja and Roman centurion to medieval crusader. The costuming also evokes the perpetual cycle of conflict, finishing with Birrell’s crisply callous First World War general, sacrificing lives for personal glory. 

The Great War pervades Never Land, from judicious period musical choices to army props and the elegant paralleling of Mrs Darling waiting for her children and soldiers’ families awaiting their return from the Front; both experience re-entry problems. The innocence of the lovably puppyish Lost Boys war games is lost, and the clarity of honour decimated. Some of this is elucidated in heavy-handed fashion – unnecessary given the theatrical articulacy on display.

Abeysekera’s Peter is a cocky but winning street kid, his sinuous flight an organic extension of magnetic expressiveness; when Wendy kisses him, he levitates with joy. Spine-tingling lift-off is achieved via bungee ropes and the support and counterbalancing of ever-present soldiers, who advance the action with military precision. Rachael Cannings marvellous Steampunk puppets evoke the creatures: the crocodile a snapping ladder; vicious mermaids gas masks and sheet metal; and Rachel Donovan’s indelible Tinker Bell a battered Pixar lamp with the hissing voice of Gollum, jealously guarding her precious. Alexander’s impassioned Wendy puts up a good fight, her gutsiness making the outdated gender politics more palatable. Other standouts include Beverley Rudds big-hearted Smee and Osbournes John, determined to die like an English gentleman.

Eternally resonant is the transitoriness of uncomplicated childhood; beware the crocodiles ticking clock. As night falls in the park, our primal response to this eloquently and magically translated bedtime story deepens. I do believe in fairies!

Eternally resonant is the transitoriness of uncomplicated childhood; beware the crocodile’s ticking clock


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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