Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A visually impressive, well told and performed version of the classic J.M Barrie story, brought to life with a special ingredient: aerial theatre.
In the large, cathedral-size space at the Blue Drill Hall we enter and are already immersed in a mysterious world. Neverland…The children’s curiosity is piqued from the start. Shadow aerial work, evocative music, the lighting set to that of a bed-time tale…Peter Pan.
What unfolds is a playful and phsically experimental take on the classic J.M. Barrie tale with the particular ingredient of aerial theatre featuring strongly throughout, though never dominating the production.
There’s nonstop action in this story performance and it kept the children engaged from start to finish. It’s a production that makes full use of the casts’ many abilities, including aerial work, physical theatre and storytelling, a bit of dance and plenty of knockabout. The shadow aerial work is particularly carefully and tenderly done and is, at times, beautiful and a spectacle of the show. A real strength of the production is how the aerial work is integrated into the narrative. The air truly becomes a second stage. It also takes place right above us and not simply before us, there’s an immediacy to the action, a presence to it. Not all of the musical choices support the magical atmosphere. I’d take out the rock guitar track – it’s out of place.
There’s a thankfully un-Disneyfied feel to the design of this Peter Pan. Hook is greyer, darker, poised and more believable. Actually he’s quite frightening and I could imagine younger children being genuinely scared (in a good way, he’s a theatrical rather than a pantomime baddie). There’s some real inventiveness in the staging and the capture of Princess Tigerlilly and her rescue is beautiful to watch, full of humour and clever choreography. The crocodile and Hook is another inventive highlight. (Hook looks a bit like a certain Johnny Depp – not sure if that is intentional). The aerial dance between Peter and Wendy is a five star moment in an already very good show.
Characters are used to tell the story. For example Hook narrates the capture of Wendy, stepping off the stage and talking directly to the children who sit, right close to the action, on mats.
Tinkerbell is played more traditionally. Peter is more contemporary. They’ve played with the story a bit but kept the characters recognizable and with a ring of truth to them. Sometimes the action, words and movement are a bit too busy and create moments of confusion in the narrative.
So here is the critical question: does the aerial spectacle overwhelm the unfolding story as a piece of theatre? Mostly they have got the balance right and only occasionally does done of it feel a bit superfluous. As non-native speakers the performers do pretty well but sometimes intonation is inevitably lacking. However, costumes, lighting, music, physical gesture, characterization and, of course, the flight, make this a treat of a show, and it’s at its best when all of these elements combine to form a rich visual, vocal and aerial storytelling brew!
The ending is touching and brings this impressive production full circle in the way a good story should. I won’t say all of the usual Peter Pan show ingredients are here, because they are not. There are new ingredients here and that gives it a strong and original flavour. Think a wonderful thought…Yes, the thought is to head down to Leith to see Peter Pan