Peter Pan makes for regular Xmas fare and rightly so. It’s is a story that is able to capture young children’s imaginations and allow them to revel in their childhood. How wonderful as a child to be told that one is not merely hanging around waiting to become an adult, but actually adults are merely grown-up children. In J.M.Barrie’s children’s fantasy fairies do live, if children will only believe in them, and it is possible to fly with the aid of fairy dust, mermaids do swim in the sea and silly boys who fall out of prams all live lives full of adventure in Never land -which is found “Second (Star) on the right and straight on 'til morning".
Director Steven Dexter has opted to produce Peter Pan as a play, but his production never manages to shake off the mood of pantomime. The main reasons for this are the sets by Francis O’Connor that look as if they have been designed on a very tight budget. Cardboard waves that appear to double up as cardboard sky, naff curtains to create the appearance of water, a little green spotlight for Tinker Bell, and children who don’t so much fly as dangle awkwardly in the air. The other reason is the inability of the lost-boys, all played by adults, to act. They are infuriatingly annoying, and often it is difficult to hear what they are saying because of their feeble attempts at childish voices.
Jack Blumenau is lack-lustre as Peter Pan, gone are Peter Pan’s wraithlike qualities that set him apart from other boys. He is also too impassive after Tinker Bell drinks the poison that was meant for him and when he asks, "Oh, Tinker Bell, are you dying?" there is no quiver to his voice.
It is left to Katie Foster-Barnes as Wendy to give the play its substance. As a child about to blossom into adulthood, her Wendy captures the feeling of anguish at the thought of losing the innocence of childhood. She busies herself with playing at being mother to the lost-boys, happily ticking them off and telling them bedtime stories, yet she longs to be more than just a playmate for Peter Pan and plaintively asks him again and again “What am I to You, Peter Pan?” What a pity that Blumenau's Peter Pan was unable to respond with equal bewilderment to Wendy’s question.
Anthony Head is a delightfully camp Captain Hook, he jiggles with excitement at the thought of wicked acts and leers mischievously at the audience, though he is unable to combine this with an air of menace. When the crocodile finally eats him you do not hear children cry with glee at his unfortunate demise.
The opening scene in the Darling family nursery is the most endearing part of the show. David Burt as Mr Darling huffs and puffs at his children, whilst obviously adoring them. Children will love the way he complains that Nana, the dog, gets more cuddles than himself. The two children who play John and Michael Darling are enchanting and left me wishing that children had also been cast for the part of the Lost-Boys.
There have been some excellent productions of Peter Pan over the years, none more so than the National Theatre’s production with Ian McKellen as Captain Hook. In comparison to these productions, this Peter Pan is decidedly second-rate. Young children will no doubt be captivated by this show, however older children and adults may well feel disappointed.
What other critics had to say.....
FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Peter could do better." RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Anthony Head's Captain Hook cheered me up....Ultimately, though, he is too low-key for this festival of froth." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "Lumbering production...so very ordinary." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Disastrously underpowered production." ALISTAIR MACAULAY for the FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Anthony Head...is suave, sly, but lightweight, never frightening." SAM MARLOWE for THE TIMES says, "It might charm and amuse intermittently, but it’s unlikely to leave anyone believing in fairies."