Theatre Review: Peter Pan, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
PUBLISHED: 11:56 31 May 2018
Haunting elements of World War I inspired Peter Pan blend with puppetry, aerial skills and a panto Captain Hook
REGENT’S PARK OPEN AIR THEATRE
‘To live would be an awfully big adventure,’ this paraphrase of Peter Pan’s most poignant comment resonates in Timothy Sheader’s inspiring production. The play is book-ended by nightmarish scenes evoking a World War I field hospital near the Somme and its adjacent trenches. Bloodied soldiers double as the lost boys in a no-man’s-land meets Neverland take on the theme of loss.
It’s an elegiac and ambitious response to J.M. Barrie’s play told through a dazzling mix of large-scale puppetry, exceptional aerial skills courtesy of an on-set pulley system, and an ingenious use of props.
Barrie was haunted by the death of George Llewelyn Davies who was shot dead in Flanders - the eldest of the five brothers who were the inspiration behind Peter Pan. Sheader’s concept warrants a dark perspective though the bleak and overlong initial hospital scene may be too much for younger children, and symbolism and dialogue can drive the point home too hard: ‘I thought it was only flowers that died,’ lament the children in Neverland.
A St George’s flag flies ominously like a kite over proceedings. Other touches in Jon Bausor’s set are genius: hospital beds flip up and become fields of poppies or the walls of a Wendy house. Tinker Bell as a scrap metal puppet - brilliantly handled and voiced Golem-style by Elisa de Grey - is surprisingly moving.
A thrilling percussive score of military marching band numbers contrasts well with standard yo-ho-ho pirate fare – here performed by a motley band of Ninja fighters and Saxon warriors. Caroline Deyga as an obsequious Smee is particularly pleasing. Tonal shifts can jolt: the camp and heavily panto Hook [Dennis Herdman] is a delight, but he plays the role in full technicolour set against a fluorescent backdrop of neon-pink flowers which is slightly at odds with the production’s more muted aspects.
The prophetic and mournful refrain sung by Rebecca Thorn is somewhat underpowered. What binds together disparate elements is Sam Angell as a perfect and wondrously mercurial Peter Pan: ‘I am youth and joy,’ he shouts as he soars over the audience. Nightmares recede and the possibility of redemption and magic triumphs.