FringeReview UK 2016
Based on J.M. Barrie’s original play, with permission from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, presented by arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited, here’s a classic musical version of Berrie’s timeless tale. “Stiles & Drewe’s acclaimed musical adaptation of Peter Pan comes to 88 London Road. We join Peter and the Darling family as they are whisked away to the famous land full of colourful characters including the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily and, of course, the dastardly Captain Hook”
Stiles & Drewe’s acclaimed musical adaptation of Peter Pan, directed by James Weisz, is a home-grown production. And what an outstanding production this version of Peter Pan is! Full use is made of the 88 London Road stage, and some deft lighting choices transform the setting into both London and Neverland.
The ensemble cast work brilliantly together, singing is top notch and the songs err on the side of musical theatre rather than panto and what we have here is an engaging, fully theatrical musical. Hook (Thomas Hewitt) is suitably evil and dandy-esque, Peter is played by Matthew Chase with playful petulance, passion when courage is needed, and swashbuckling heroism when called to action. Wendy (Natalie Sexton) is intense and sincere and here we have a girl somewhere between childhood and that age where love’s first kiss transforms innocence into life experience. All of the main performers deserve plaudits for so fully inhabiting the skins of their characters, aided in their task by some fine costumes.
The narrative is carried with eloquence, warmth and intensity by Gina Cameron, as well as a set of narrative-serving songs, none of which is a dud, and all of which are carried off with aplomb by the hugely able cast. They belt out the numbers, clear and hearty, tender and emotional, witty and playful. This is a cast that joins up, is well modulated (and that’s down to masterly direction) and consistent in both acting and singing style. This modulation is a real asset and allows the consistency to facilitate our full attention as an audience. Younger cast members are cheekily funny, pirates are comedically incompetent and cluelessly loyal to their evil captain.
Peter Pan was always a story and a play that poses awkward questions about youth, adulthood, innocence, surrender and letting go. This production takes these questions seriously and offers them back to we, the audience, to experience and consider. Many versions of Pan, (even using versions of this script), often drop these darker, more challenging elements but here we have a courageous production, bold and wise in design and execution. We were entertained but also immersed in the deeper themes.
What makes this an outstanding production is its inventive use of resources. On a limited budget, the worlds of London and Neverland are brought to vivid life through an effective alchemy of song, set, movement, a few clever special effects, puppetry and drama. It all melds together, and a synergy that is beautiful fantasy-musical=theatre is achieved where the whole is most definitely greater than the sum of the parts. It’s warmhearted, fun and also affecting in all the right places.
The child performers are excellent – full-hearted, committed and talented, funny and moving when needed. This makes a huge difference – the youngest hold their own with ease and both the Darling children and the Lost Boys moore than acquit themselves in a uniformly talented cast.
I loved and valued the sincerity in James Weisz’s direction. Deeper themes are explored in Barrie’s book and Weisz has stayed true to the spirit of the classic script offered here. I was crying near the end as the emotional import of saying goodbye was touchingly delivered on stage. There’s much comedy in our Hook-Pan interplay and the crocodile is realised well visually and through a tight sound effect. This is a production lifted from the pages of a goodnight story book, told, not in garish Disney colours but in dreamy pastel shades of a nuanced fairy tale.
The song and dance is superb and realised consistently across the two hours. This is a long show and it is bold of the production to allow it to range the two hours. By no means a perfect production, the potential is there for a larger budget to realise the production values even more. Yet the occasional roughness in set-piece swordplay choreography or dance, the rare slip of a note, actually give an accessible humanity to the production. Give it two more weeks and it might finesse further but as it is it is all the more direct and accessible for being bold and brash. That courage and confidence is a stand-out quality. This is small to mid-scale theatre and every ounce of virtue had been rung out of it by the production team. All the ingredients are here: The lighting is excellent, the set smartly inventive. Puppetry and special effects are all the better for not being overdone. Tinkerbell is a simple, delightful invention and realised with skillful timing and placement. The evocation of an entire fantasy world through these resources is an outstanding spectacle in itself.
This is a top drawer piece of family musical theatre. It really is one for the whole family. It will take children into a magical world they’ll want to visit again. It will take adults back to a Neverland they’ll be glad they’ve revisited. Outstanding work.