BWW Reviews: LOST BOY, Finborough Theatre, January 2 2014
In the mud and the blood of the Western Front's charnel house, Captain George Llewellyn Davies, the boy who inspired The Boy Who Never Grew Up, is rallying a shell-shocked boy of his own company. Snatching troubled sleep as shells boom in the distance, he dreams of Wendy, of Captain Hook, of Tinkerbell and, most of all, of Peter Pan himself, united with his Lost Boys and, like them, grown up.
Soon we join the dream, transported back to the innocent days of early 1914, with the war just another awfully big adventure for pals who've never quite found earthly pleasures, no matter how rambunctious, a match for their flights of fancy in Neverland. Wendy too, hasn't quite found a man to match the boy she left behind, and has, quietly, waited for his return. And when he does return, he grows up in a hurry, just about learning the social mores of adults, but never quite coming to terms with their sexual mores, something he has cause to regret when led astray on the eve of his wedding.
Banished to learn the ways of a "real man" on the battlefield, Peter Pan becomes a ruthless soldier, as fearless with his men's lives as he always was with his own, rising through the ranks - until his old nemesis, Captain Hook, returns for one last fight amidst the dead and dying.
Phil Willmott has taken up JM Barrie's characters and reimagined The Lost Boys as an elegy to the millions of lost boys of 100 years ago. And not just boys - wives serve in the Red Cross alongside conscientious objectors, going out under fire to bear stretchers to field hospitals and finding words of comfort for men in the agonies of death. There's room for reflections on love lost too, as Tinkerbell's rejection by Peter has led her to the opium dens and whorehouses of the old East End - even Tiger Lilly turns up as a Parisian trouper, a good time girl making the best of things.
Got all that? Actually, there's a lot more and, though there is much to admire about this new musical (that it's a new musical at all is the first thing), its density is Lost Boy's drawback, stopping a fine production becoming a sensational show. There's spectacular dancing (courtesy of small-stage master chereographer Racky Plews) and some fine songs, the best being "Jungian Dream Analysis" (yes, there's psychoanalysis in there too) and "Wendy's Song", a showstopper for Grace Gardner. There's an excellent male lead from Steven Butler as George / Peter, blinking back the tears in the trenches and standing with those hands on those hips, before being chided that the only grown men to affect such a pose are those appearing in operettas.
A very strong support cast sing and dance well, but, crucially for a musical that demands to be taken seriously for all its roots in children's literature and panto, they act well too. Joseph Taylor as Wendy's trapeze acrobat brother Michael is wonderfully winning, running off to the music hall where he finds love and nobody to judge him as a gay man. Joanna Woodward is almost too good as the tragic Tinkerbell - so brilliant as the fallen fairy, that I couldn't help be disappointed when her subplot had to give way to the main event.
Lost Boy (continuing at the Finborough Theatre until January 11, then transferring to the Charing Cross Theatre until 15 February) may be a little too much of a good thing - but it's definitely a good thing, entertaining, thought-provoking and beautifully performed. As we reach the centenary of the Great War, it's the first of many shows and plays that will look back at the horror - and I don't expect to see many as imaginatively conceived nor as clear in the portrayal of youthful, even childish, innocence literally blown to pieces.