BWW Review: PETER PAN, Troubadour White City Theatre
The new Troubadour White City Theatre becomes Neverland as the timeless tale of Peter Pan flies into west London.
Pan has gone through countless incarnations since J.M. Barrie wrote the play in 1904. The mediums of film, animation, opera, pantomime and of course theatre have all adapted and presented it in various ways.
The longevity of the much-loved classic is down to its magical story and how it explores the transition from childhood into adulthood that we are all forced to make. It's a story that still resonates with us adults whilst entertaining children. But it's also a story we all know, and for that reason we perhaps want to see it done differently, without straying too far from its source material.
Director Sally Cookson succeeds in injecting new life into the work, whilst staying very true to Barrie's original vision, which was a far different story from the one we've all come to know. The Boy Who Hated Mothers was a Working Title and that's something aptly explored here, notably with Hook being female. There is also a particularly poignant scene at the end of the play when Peter sees Wendy has become a mother and a wonderful moment where Pan, abandoned by his lost boys, is left angry and upset but baby-like as he lies in a broken stroller.
Hook, played menacingly by Kelly Price, is far darker here than we might have seen. In one of her first scenes she ruthlessly runs through a pirate with her hook because he happens to like teddy bears. Such dark moments are swiftly followed by light-hearted and comical bursts, but there is a real edge to Hook in this production and it adds a new dimension to both the character and the story. Price also delivers excellent vocals in her musical numbers and relishes playing the villain, whilst embracing the comical moments her character has.
Price also plays Mrs Darling and her interactions with David Langham as Mr Darling are humorous, with Langham's physicality and vocal delivery being hilariously childlike. Daisy Maywood as Wendy morphs effortlessly from the giddy girl into the slightly stern mother figure. Her performance is captivating and especially moving in the closing scenes when her character admits she's forgotten how to fly.
Alistair Toovey is very convincing as John, his behaviour around his siblings believable and his energetic physicality conveying the boundless energy of boyhood. Ammar Duffus is also impressive in his characterisation of youngest sibling Michael. The three of them together capture both the rivalries and affections of real brothers and sisters.
The ensemble ensures each lost boy has their own distinct personality, with Cora Kirk and Mark Kane standing out in particular. Jessica Murrain presents us with a formidable Tiger Lily and Shiv Rabheru portrays Tinkerbell in a way we've never seen before. Sometimes incomprehensible but always enjoyable to watch, this male Tinkerbell is truly malevolent and all the better for it.
John Pfumojena gives us a multi-layered Pan. Flitting between boisterous boy and vulnerable child, he captures Pan's deep-hearted yearning for his mother and his torture at being lost beautifully. It is testament to the actor that in such a high-octane performance he also manages to display the character's insecurities, which can be glossed over in other adaptations.
Michael Vale realises Cookson's vision of an almost grungy and contemporary Neverland with his stripped-back set design. Graffiti is smeared on the walls, exposed ladders litter the stage, and there's an almost industrial feel. This in itself gives the production a fresh vibe whilst also keeping our attention on the characters and their story. In the past any special effects, such as Pan flying, have often been concealed. Here, they are on full show, with all that goes into aerial rigging revealed to us. This actually adds to the spectacle whilst neatly raising the question of what is reality and what is make-believe.
Aideen Malone's lighting design again switches between the stark and the mysterious, and adds to the often enchanting atmosphere that's created. The live band are especially good, performing before the play begins and providing us with a pulsating soundtrack throughout, adding vigour to the production.
The energy on the whole is high, with some great physical theatre. The initial flight to Neverland is beautifully yet very simply depicted. Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown are also inventive in their thrilling fight direction, and the cast as a whole should be commended for their high-tempo performances.
The two-hour-plus production could, however, be shortened slightly to ensure the pace remains consistent. It starts sluggishly, but once it takes flight, for the most part we are riding on its wings, engaged, enchanted and entertained. No matter what age you are, make Troubadour White City Theatre your next adventure.
Photo credit: Steve Tanner