Pleasance Theatre, London (venue)
04 December 2017 (released)
05 December 2017
J.M. Barrie’s classic tale of fairies, pirates and of course, the boy who flies and never grows up, is a masterpiece and remains as ever an endearing story that appeals to both young and old alike. Like all the best stories it is bittersweet, with a heart of sadness wrapped in the wonder of magic and hope. Peter Pan has seen countless adaptations since Barrie brought it to the stage over 100 years ago. This contemporary fringe musical produced by Action to the Word and Glynis Henderson Productions (who have previously brought to stage a favourable adaptation of A Clockwork Orange) didn’t fail to delight.
The story begins with the audience reminded as to how and why Peter Pan is who he is, and why he is so distrusting of mothers. Originally, the production was to be set to renditions of the Beatles. However, it was decided that a more diverse set of contemporary pop songs would better suit overall, and as we are first introduced to the young Peter, the cast perform ELO’s Livin’ Thing, “Sailin’ away on the crest of a wave it’s like magic…”
Seven talented actor-musicians play the characters of Pan, the Darling family, the Lost Boys, Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily and Captain Hook, interchanging when needed both the roles and the instruments they played. Instead of a petite young woman, the leader of the Lost Boys is the much more masculine Toby Falla which enabled emphasise to the more unkind and obstinate side of Peter Pan’s character. Hook was played with enough malice without scaring the kids, whilst being reminded of why his character was so mean and lonely in the first place. And Wendy, the archetypal big sister on the cusp of adulthood, bore the responsibility of steering the story to its sober end.
The stage was limited, so there were no great effects employed when Pan and the Darling children fly to Neverland. But, the cast were enthusiastic, energetic and the story rolled at a steady pace, which it needed to if it were to keep my two kids from falling asleep after school on a Monday night. The choice of songs was at times a surprise (ironically, Radiohead’s No Surprises being one). A refrain of pop song We Are Young was revisited and the final battle between Pan and Hook played out to a rendition of Foo Fighters Pretender. I did wonder on the way home which Beatles numbers had been originally pencilled in, how that would have changed the feel of the production, and whether it would have bettered it, or not.
There was also no ticking crocodile - my kids wanted a ticking crocodile! But… this wasn’t pantomime (thank God) and, but for a round of applause to bring Tinker Bell back from the dead, there was no demand on the audience to shout expected seasonal exclamations (‘it’s behind you!’). At the end of the day, it was fun and the kids liked it and also understood that the story was one tinged with sadness, just as Barrie had intended it to be.