Peter Pan at the National:
It’s five stars all the way for Sally Cookson’s fabulous production of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, first shown at the Bristol Old Vic in 2012 and now returning fully revived to the National Theatre this Christmas.
My first childhood visit to the theatre was to see Peter Pan, which transported me to Neverland for the first time, and all these years later with I haven’t tired of this magical story told through the medium of theatre. This edgy, dazzlingly inventive production still filled me with joy.
Michael vale’s set design initially creates a simple scene with just a bed and stepladders for the Darling families bedroom, but it dramatically transforms before our eyes to take us off to Neverland, to an idyllic childhood camp, a kingdom of play where freedom rules; a derelict space, covered in graffiti with ladders, skateboards, old tires and broken prams. Everything is made of salvage including some excellent puppets, wolves and large white birds, and a glorious corrugated crocodile with startling red eyes. Later a wonderful pirate ship made from an old skip dramatically rises from depths of the Olivier’s stage, perfect for the pirate battle that ensues.
Paul Hilton beautifully captures Peter’s boyish, anarchic charm, he reminded me of 80’s punk star Ten Pole Tudor, in his scruffy green suit and gawky gait. Peter meets his match with Wendy played with huge appeal by Madeline Worrall, whose feisty yet gentle demeanour touches the hearts of the Lost Boys and has Peter like putty in her hands playing mummies and daddies. It is only when Wendy stops the play, challenging her own desires and inklings of growing up that Peter’s defences quickly reappear.
A villainess, malevolent Captain Hook played superbly by Anna Francolini, was unusually frightening in her black wig, with glistening gold teeth and gothic attire. She is the first female Hook I’ve seen, a clever challenge to gender stereotypes. This added a whole new dimension to Hook’s character where we witness beneath her venomous exterior, her broken spirit and secret maternal longings, which we see when she yearns to mother Peter whilst he is asleep.
Saikat Ahamad creates an unusual vision of a fairy, a divisive character, talking in a gibberish form of fairy language. It is an amusing performance, but lacks appeal, perhaps based on my old fashioned notions of fairies. However, I joined in fully with the audience when we were asked to clap if we believed in fairies. Ekow Quartley comically plays Nana the dog, plus the baby of the Lost Boys and I loved Theone Rashleigh’s tough, spirited Tiger Lily.
The flying scenes created the perfect sense of wonderment, enhanced by Aideen Malone’s glorious lighting effects. My young companion was sitting open-mouthed on the edge of his seat, completely in awe, never once questioning the devices that were used and believing wholeheartedly (as only the young can) in ‘fairy string’ and Peter’s flying tips: “just think of a wonderful thought in your head”.
This magnificently rich production genuinely speaks to all ages and touches hearts of most. Wendy poignantly portrays the pain of growing up, and in the latter scenes, we see her facilitate her own daughter’s introduction to Peter and the open window, which symbolises every parent’s need to let their children spread their wings.
Over spilling with charm, virtuosity and innovation this is one adventure not to be missed this Christmas.
Peter Pan is showing in the Olivier Theatre, at the National Theatre, Southbank, SE1 9PX
Until January 4th