wendy and peter top

Michael, John, Peter Pan, Tink and Wendy about to set off for Neverland - second to the right and straight on till morning. Pictures: Manuel Harlan

Wendy and Peter Pan

Royal Shakespeare Company



EVERY so often along comes a production where all the elements combine as close to perfection as the theatrical Gods will allow and the result is just pure, stage magic.

Thus we have Wendy and Peter Pan, the RSC’s wonderful family, festive offering based on J.M. Barrie’s 1911 novel, Peter and Wendy.

The interest starts long before the play with a fascinating set designed by Colin Richmond portraying the Darling children’s bedroom full of quirky objects and a giant slowly revolving mobile overhead complete with a crocodile and pirate ship. Enough to keep young children’s enquiring minds engrossed until the lights dim for action.

The glorious set also gives us the wonderfully detailepirate shipd Lost Boys underground home which rises from the depths as the stage opens like a giant book while a giant pirate ship sails in majestically from the rear of the vast stage lit with the rippling light of a moonlit sea.

And upon that stage is some marvellous acting from a fabulous cast led by former Birmingham University student Mariah Gale and Rhys Rusbatch as Peter Pan.

Gale gives a wonderful portrayal as Wendy, at times the innocent young girl, at times the feisty young woman; always plucky, always convincing and with a glorious sense of fun.

Hook's ship The Jolly Roger with its skull figurehead

Ella Hickson’s clever adaptation, full of wit and charm, is a feminist take on the original, but fear not, this is no gender equality role playing seminar; all she has done is look at the story as much from the point of view of Wendy as from that of Peter. She has given Wendy a say, a voice which she uses with passion and good humour.

The clue is in the juxtaposition of names from the original title. It’s ladies first here.

James Corrigan is John, eldest brother who lets Wendy play in his constant games of battles and derring do - but only as a damsel in distress. His John is a spiffing yarns sort of chap while younger brother Michael, played timidly by Jordan Metcalfe , is more interested in butterflies than battles. And then there is Tom, played by Sam Clemmett, the fourth, unheralded brother, and an addition from Hickson.

He is not with us for long though, dying in the opening scene. He might not have been in the original but his loss does add an extra element to Barrie’s fairy story, with Wendy dealing with the family’s grief and searching for her lost brother rather than merely looking for adventure as she follows Pan to Neverland. It adds a darker dimension for youngsters, and adults, to ponder.

And speaking of fairies, we have no tiny waiflike, Disneyesque Tinkerbell here, Tink is an ample, well upholstered Cockney rebel of a fairy complete wif bovver boots played in a wonderfully in yer face antagonistic way by Charlotte Mills. She has some great lines and the faultless timing to make the most of them. The pin point of light which jumps from hand to hand representing the unseen Tink as she  flies, incidentally, is particularly clever and effective.

Leading the Lost Boys is, of course, Pan played with a boyish enthusiasm, Welsh accent and innocence by Rusbatch. His Pan is happy to fight his sworn enemy Captain Hook or play games with his gang of Lost Boys and that’s about it. Anything deeper, anything more serious, any relationships beyond friend or enemy is beyond him – a boy who never grew up.

HisTink the fairy fun gang could be straight from the pages of Just William, children playing at battles, except the first time we come across Hook he slits the throat of an annoying pirate with his frightening hook.

It might be a game but it is a deadly one as Hickson once again darkens the story.

Pan is surrounded by six shadows – that’s inflation for you, Barrie’s Pan only had one – who follow him around and give an illusion of flying.

The real flying is done on fairly hefty wires which might not look as real as flying rigs in, say a proscenium panto but kids don’t mind. They have imagination in abundance which is more powerful than any special effects.

Tink the fulsome fairy, played by Charlotte Mills - afraid of nothing  . . . except perhaps Christmas trees . . .

The indisposition of Darrell D’Silva saw David Langham elevated from crewman to Captain Hook and what a smiling sinister Hook he created, a gentleman psychopath with reptilian charm, and a lovely line in glances and asides which show a delightful twinkle of fun amid the darkness.

When it comes to reptilian though we have the crocodile, played in top hat and long green tinged coat by Arthur Kyeyune, who also played the doctor with the bad news about Tom.

As the croc he manages to walk, sort of, while doing the splits – it’s a don’t try this at home moment and quite remarkable – and a little bit painful – to watch, particularly for those of us who creak merely rising from our seats at the interval.

Paul Kemp gives us a homemaker of a Smee, who wants to settle down in a little cottage with Hook, while the rest of the crew are a pretty standard scurvy collection of cut-throats . . . apart from Martin, played by Adam Gillen, who can’t manage a pirate’s “Ahharrrh” and is probably a Lost Boy who got lost on arrival rather than a pirate.

Hook has an added trouble to worrytiger lily nd wendy about in the shape Tiger Lily, played by Mimi Ndiweni, the last of the Piccaninny Tribe, a warrior who saves Wendy and joins forces with her and Tink in the girl’s guerrillas in the final, decisive battle for Neverland.

For Neverland to exist though we need a real world, an Edwardian world where Rebecca Johnson is a blissful Mrs Darling and Patrick Toomey a fun father, head of a happy family - until the death of Tom when fun and happiness dies with him and we see grief destroying the family, which Hickson cleverly, in the briefest of interludes, weaves into the action as Neverland and the real world pass each other by.

Girl power: Tiger Lily, played by Mimi Ndiweni, gives a lesson in bowmanship to Wendy, played by Mariah Gale

The script is witty, funny, at times sad, at times charming, at times dark but always interesting, with cheeky references to films such as Dirty Dancing and A few Good Men slipped in.

Director Jonathan Munby has done a good job in allowing the story to flow at a natural rhythm and in engaging the audience with the RSC trademark of cast entering on walkways and along aisles which makes children feel even more part of the action.

Terry King’s excellent fight arrangements, Oliver Fenwick’s lighting and Olly Fox’s music from the seven piece orchestra all add to what is a quite enchanting production. The RSC age advice is seven plus. My grandson is much younger than that and enjoyed it, but he is a seasoned theatregoer – the benefit of a grandfather who is a critic – while some young children were fidgeting long before the end, so it is up to parents to decide if their child could sit through two and a half hours, including interval, of a play, albeit the most glorious, wonderful production.

As for adults, there is a little part of us that never wants to grow up, and this is a chance to indulge the child in all of us for a short while with a little theatrical magic. To 31-01-16

Roger Clarke



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