Peter Pan at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
This family-friendly production thinks it’s very clever, and in some ways it is. Peter Pan takes an iconic children’s tale about youth and family and turns it into a story about war.
Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel’s so-called “spellbinding reinvention” of JM Barrie’s iconic story begins in an army barracks in World War I, where a nurse (Cora Kirk) is reading the novel to the injured soldiers. Suddenly, and without explanation, the military quarters become the Darling household in Bloomsbury, the medic is now Wendy Darling, the soldiers are her sleeping brothers and Peter (Sam Angell) is at the window.
This adaptation draws parallels between the lives of Barrie’s characters and those of a group of WWI soldiers but seems unsure as to why. Apparently, George Llewelyn Davies (the boy who inspired the eponymous character) was killed in action in 1915. But this fact alone is not enough to necessitate this reworking and comes across as more of a gimmick than a profound statement, and will no doubt confound a lot of the children who have come to watch a story they recognise play out.
Jon Bausor’s design deserves considerable recognition. The ingenious set is incredibly versatile and – with the assistance of Rachel Canning’s puppet direction – is able to move from Bloomsbury to Neverland to the battlefield with creative ease. Outside of this technical achievement, there wasn’t too much for this reviewer to enjoy. The production seems to think of itself as a bit of a musical, except for the fact that the songs have no memorable melody and the cast cannot sing.
The central performances of Angell, Kirk and Dennis Herdman as Hook are disappointing. The leading man takes one of the most iconic characters in the canon and reduces him to a shouty, Scottish rascal. Kirk’s delivery – though perhaps tailored to a younger demographic – is nonetheless stilted, and Herdman fails to put across the pantomime villain camp-ness needed to get an audience riled up.
This is a gimmicky production that tries to say something profound about war whilst maintaining a family vibe. All jokes fall flat, the script and pacing are tedious and the art of characterisation somewhat eludes the cast. However, the obvious saving grace of Peter Pan – which may provide enough entertainment in itself – lies in the ingenuity of its staging.
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Peter Pan is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 17th May until 15th June 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.