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FringeReview Ireland 2024

Peter Pan

The Gate Theatre

Genre: Drama, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: The Gate Theatre


Low Down

Their offering for the 2023 Christmas season was a new version of Peter Pan by Roddy Doyle; not a panto, but a play.  The marketing had promised updates to the classic, but apart from moving the setting from London to Dublin there were few obvious changes.  Of course anyone who expected a stage version of the Disney film would have been disappointed.


Despite the chandeliers, the blue and cream coloured auditorium seems always a bit dark and oppressive, maybe that’s due to most of the bulbs having burnt out.  However for this production this was used to set the scene.  A soundtrack (design Johnny Edwards) of horse drawn carriages rattling past us, with horseshoes tapping on the cobble stone, while far away a dog barks, easily transported us back more than hundred years.  The faint sound of a church congregation singing was rudely interrupted by the racket of an early car’s motor.  Just before the start of the performance Nana, played by Bryan Quinn who clearly enjoyed the role, entered the auditorium complete with bonnet and a big bow around her neck.  Causing a bit of a rumpus here and there.  The younger members of the audience loved it and filled the hall with shrieks and laughter, which only grew in volume when stage management threw her out.  Although some of Nana’s newly won fans aired their displeasure at losing her so soon after meeting her.  The separation didn’t last long.  Nana opens the show by chasing a boy across stage.  It is time for bed.  Instead of bed he jumps into a bathtub on wheels foreshadowing later scenes when the bathtub becomes a boat in Neverland.  The first scene is rather shouty with Michael (Darren Dixon) being only a tiny bit less difficult as his dad for not wanting to take their medicine.  In general Mr Darling (Shane O’Reilly) comes across as hysterical, arrogant and irresponsible.  I did wonder why director Ned Bennett decided to go down this route.  Mrs Darling (Clare Dunne) seems marginally more mature when she tells how she came to capture Peter Pan’s shadow in a jar.  Tinkerbell’s arrival is an amazing coup de theatre by lighting designer Sarah Jane Shiels. The light darts from one corner to the next until it ends up on the stage.  The children in the audience were so amazed, they even forgot to rustle their sweet bags for thirty seconds.  When Tinkerbell is freed from the jar that contained Peter’s shadow and in which she locks herself accidentally, becomes a little light, like a glow worm.  Shiels’ design is again used to great effect when the children, now all covered in fairy dust fly away from the window and as bright lights bounce around the auditorium.  It looks amazing as long as you are an onlooker.  When the light hits your eyes it is blinding and painful.  In Neverland the Lost Boys wait for Peter Pan and it doesn’t take long for Captain Hook to arrive in the wheelie bathtub.  Hook is played by Clare Dunne who also takes the role of Mrs Darling.  Whether this has any deeper meaning or just happenchance of casting was not obvious.  Hooks narration about how his hand was cut off by Peter and eaten by a crocodile that also had swallowed a clock contains a lot of ‘dad jokes’ along the lines of croco-dial.  Edward makes the arrival of the crocodile a purely audible experience.  The ticking moves around the rows of seats that quite a few were compelled to look around where the crocodile actually was coming from.  Katie Davenport’s costume design uses neon accents to make the costumes glow under black light which gives some scenes very much a fairy tale feel.  The fighting is choreographed by Jonah McGreevy as a playful and fast tumbling scene that again is wonderfully lit by Shiels.  When Wendy pushes Hook into the sea, the crocodile surfaces.  It is a huge puppet, designed by Caroline Bowman and directed by Sarah Mardel and probably the most amazing thing in the show.  The kids and many adults were in awe.

The wonderful ideas of the designers were really let down by a rather poor script.  The story was mostly told instead of presented on stage and the jokes were often laboured and fell flat.  The actors tried their best with what they had been given, but the text just did not do then any favours.  I left the theatre rather deflated.

The Gate Theatre, founded in 1928, moved to its current location in 1930. Squashed between the Rotunda Hospital and Parnell Square, this chintzy 1790s Dublin theatre is an artist-led organisation.  It has produced international works and toured far and wide across several continents.  The Gate is very keen on diversity and equality and has produced some very interesting works in the past.  Since 2022 it has been under the artistic leadership of Róisín McBrinn.

On entering the auditorium we were informed by very apologetic ushers that they had run out of programs for this last performance of the run.  They were offering printed cast lists free of charge.  It was such a welcome change not to be referred to a website.  The Gate also has a policy that you can pick up a printed paper ticket at the box office as well as have your phone scanned.  This is what true accessibility looks like.  Not everyone uses a smart phone, not everyone has a printer and some of us just like collecting tickets and programs.