Peter Pan at the National Theatre
“I’m eternal youth,” exclaims Peter Pan in a production that revives JM Barrie’s much loved children’s classic, reaching out to children and adults alike. The cast is made up entirely of adults and so there are multiple levels of make believe occurring. The show is not hyper but exhilarating and the acting is impressive. This is a play that can so easily slip into pantomime but at no point does this happen here. Magic lies within the stage craft, which lays bare the mechanics of flying, introducing elements of realism but at the same time not subtracting from the magical spectacle.
A live band accompanies the action throughout. The pirates enter the concrete stage to a soundtrack of reggae while melodic techno pounds through some of the fighting scenes. Songs are not added for the sake of it but are melodious and catchy in a way that is antithetical to the normal repetitive and ostensible numbers in musicals.
Neverland becomes an urban jungle, where Captain Hook’s ship is formed from a skip and a lamp post. It is the Neverland of modern children with elements of Barrie’s Victorian London still imposing. There are particular moments that are astoundingly crafted, including the children flying to Peter Pan’s magical land and the death of the villain. Paul Hilton is an active and slightly sinister Pan. The fact that he is so obviously an adult plays with the intended illusion that he will “always be a boy”. Sophie Thompson’s Hook is not theatrically evil but instead she portrays the character as psychologically disturbed.
This is a show for all the family. It is enjoyable escapism – magical and yet grounded in reality. Though this staging of Peter Pan is adult and sophisticated in its construction, it retains the inner child-like fantasy that is so timelessly charming. Peter may have found his shadow but this play is not sewn to the shadows of past productions: it is new, rich and mesmerising.
Photo: Steve Tanner
Peter Pan is at the National Theatre from 1st December 2016 until 4th February 2017. Book your tickets here.