Wendy and Peter Pan

Dec 1 2018 | By More

★★★★☆     Magic

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Thu 29 Nov 2018 – Sat 5 Jan 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson
Tickets and details: Book here.

Old and new collide in Wendy and Peter Pan, a beautifully staged Lyceum Christmas production that combines originality with fidelity to the spirit of a much-loved classic.

Much like his near-contemporary Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan is a character who is Scottish by descent if not strictly by birth, and who has survived countless reworkings, retellings and complete maulings.

Isobel McArthur and Ziggy Heath. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

Ella Hickson’s 2015 version of J.M. Barrie’s immortal story of the boy who never grows up keeps most of the plot elements everyone would expect, while elegantly updating others – not least in the reversal of names in the title of Barrie’s novelised version of the story.

This is significant, as Wendy takes centre stage here. Instead of merely sitting around admiring boys having adventures, she is involved in more of the pirate-fighting and derring-do. The question of why the other female characters just want to kill Wendy is also directly addressed.

There are other changes made to the story, notably a fourth Darling sibling whose death at the beginning of the play provides the impetus for the journey to Neverland and for much of what happens later. While this is a justifiable thematic fit with the original, it is possible that it – like other moments in the play – could be on the worrying side for some of the younger audience members.

However, if you are going to do Peter Pan, then the strangeness and troubling meditations on youth and mortality that pepper the original are going to have to be included, and this version certainly achieves an excellent balance between old and new.

grandeur and utility

However, this is not a stereotypically ‘dark’ retelling of the story, as there are still liberal helpings of fairy dust, both literal and metaphorical. There is confidence to Eleanor Rhode’s direction that makes for compelling and seemingly effortless staging.

(L-R) Dorian Simpson, Isobel McArthur, Gyuri Sarossy and Ziggy Heath. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

Max Johns’s design has that elusive combination of grandeur and utility that, allied to Mark Doubleday’s imaginative lighting and Michael John McCarthy’s atmospheric sound design, conjures up considerable theatricality without ever seeming to be straining for effect.

Isobel McArthur’s Wendy is a wonderfully human creation, full of ambitions, doubts and impulses that audience members both young and old will instantly recognise. Ziggy Heath’s Peter is less eager and more morose than many interpretations of the part, but retains a boyish whimsy and physicality.

The reflections on ageing are perhaps carried a little too far by Captain Hook (Gyuri Sarossy, doubling as Mr Darling as is traditional). Instead of an all-action foil for Peter, he seems more like a final-act Macbeth, lamenting the passing of his vitality.

All of which is delivered in the slightly posh Estuary drawl seemingly obligatory for all pirates post-Jack Sparrow. The other icon he brings to mind is The Simpsons’ Mr Burns, particularly in his relationship with Dorian Simpson’s gloriously funny Smee.

humour and humanity

There are still plenty of sword-fights, of course, with clever use of the auditorium, and some excellent theatrical events, including the ones you would expect.

(L-R) Bonnie Baddoo, Isobel McArthur and Sally Reid. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

George Naylor and Cristian Ortega give John and Michael Darling the right mixture of humour and humanity, which is also true of Laurie Jamieson, Christine Gomes and Rhys Whomsley as the Lost Boys.

Sally Reid’s resolutely Scottish Tink is the characterisation that edges the whole thing closest to pantomime, and the production is all the better for her immensely funny performance, with comic timing that is simply brilliant.

Bonnie Baddoo’s Mrs Darling is oddly (if understandably) stiff, but this provides an interesting contrast with her aggressively surly Tiger Lily.

The message of empowerment that the re-titling promises is done with some subtlety; perhaps too much so, as those beliefs and preoccupations of Barrie’s time that have survived the re-write do send out somewhat mixed messages.

However, there is always sufficient in there to provoke discussion with young audiences, as well as there being more than enough theatrical magic to stimulate the imagination.

Running time 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Thursday 29 November 2018 – Saturday 5 January 2019
Various times. See website for details
Tickets and details: Book here.

Sally Reid. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

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