Peter Pan - El Musical

Sunday, 30 March, 2008

J M Barrie's 'Peter Pan' is not so much a play or even just a character, it's almost an industry. Films, stage versions, novels, and now a musical all emante from a character created by J M Barrie in 1902, and developed into a stage play that debuted in 1904. Since then, Peter Pan and the other characters associated with him - Tinker Bell, Wendy, Captain Hook, Nana, the crocodile etc etc, are all pretty-well households names. There are statues of Peter Pan scattered around the globe, proving that the story has bedded itself into the psyche of most of the human race.

Though this is a musical version, there's a more important aspect to it - it's a Spanish version which, according to the producers, has already been seen by more than a million people - or espectadores as they say in Spanish. So, I hear you ask, how do you know what's going on if you don't speak the lingo? Well, a large illuminated sign displays surtitles - like subtitles but over the acting area rather than under the film as you would see in the cinema. The problem is that they're not nearly so helpful.

It suddenly occurred to me watching this show that young children probably don't know exactly what's going on in most plays or pantos. I don't think for one moment that a four or 5 year old could possibly manage to understand and assimilate all the dialogue in your average panto - even if the script has been specifically written for kids. I think what they do is piece together what they can understand, and then mix it up with a bit of their own imagination and what they're seeing to make some kind of sense of it all. And if they don't get the entire thing, well it probably doesn't matter because there's more than enough new information to keep their developing brains busy.

For adults on the other hand, this is a very frustrating way to watch a stage production. While you're trying to follow what's going on at stage level, you have to keep glancing up at the screen to see what's being said or sung. Don't think that knowing the basic story is going to help very much. Since it's in a different language there's always the possibility that the writers have slipped in something new or a joke or two, even if the producers claim this is a faithful rendition of the piece. Furthermore, the surtitles are just not effective enough because they sometimes don't have enough of the translation at any one time.

The overture is accompanied by a green laser light show which looked terribly dated and tired. In London, we're used to well-designed and modern effects even from fairly low-budget musicals. So this opening set exactly the wrong tone, and was a harbinger of what was to come. Sadly, Tinker Bell is represented by the same green laser, so nothing new or very exciting in the fairy department.

Peter Pan is played with agility and enthusiasm by Miguel Antelo, but his repetitive hands-on-hips stance became very irritating after a while and again leant a dated feel to the characterisation. Antelo's singing was good though, and he really came to life when he started talking to the audience in English, giving us a taste of what could have been if only there had been more humour in the show, and a concerted effort to involve the audience throughout.

I'm afraid there were times while I was watching this production when the EuroVision song contest leapt readily to mind. The songs, frankly, are about as average and over-done as many of that competition's entries. And some of the signing is intolerably loud - particularly Captain Hook's.

The Lost Boys seem to have found their clothes in the local charity shops, and have chosen to adorn them with considerable amounts of fur (fake one would hope) that may have the animal rights people up in arms, and audiences wondering what kind of creatures the Lost Boys actually are.

When we got to the curtain calls, I thought they were never actually going to end. When the actors appear they indulge in lengthy individual routines, and as soon as we were reaching for our coats, another encore of one of the songs began, further dragging out the process to the limits of endurance.

Overall, this version of 'Peter Pan' is dated, rather limp and lacking in invention. Though I applaud the director's decision to be faithful to the original, there's ample room within that constraint to be creative and produce something truly magical and innovative. Set against the other musicals in London right now it doesn't stand up well at all, conveying the impression of well-intentioned amateurism rather than a top-notch, dazzling West End production. And the fact that it is delivered in Spanish makes it impossible to get any of the nuances in the script or any of the humour.

There are only 36 performances of this show, so if you want to see it, you'll have to get in quickly. If you don't manage to land tickets, I shouldn't grieve too much unless your life actually depends on seeing 'Peter Pan' in Spanish. There are sure to be other versions around in the not-too-distant future which will be more comprehensible, and more inventive.

To end on a positive note, quite a slice of the box office take is destined for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, thanks to J M Barrie's munificence. The author handed over the copyright to the hospital in 1929 and since then it's been enjoying the fruits of that gift. So, if you're also feeling in a generous frame of mind, you may want to support the show come what may to help GOSH get the funds it needs to expand and improve its services. Just don't expect to leave the theatre humming all the tunes!

(Peter Brown)

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