JM Barrie’s timeless children’s classic was an excellent choice for half term week in Lichfield. The libretto is unusually strong for a musical, and although the score is less familiar, it is instantly accessible, and works with the story, rather than simply being an excuse to fit in a good song. Novel (1904) and musical (1954) are separated by half a century, the latter winning numerous awards for its reimagining of the original story. The theme of childhood innocence endures.
Musical and pantomime versions routinely cast Peter as a young woman, however here, the producer, Faye O’Leary, bravely opts for a young man, Patrick Jervis, to play the eponymous role, reflecting a more straight forwards, narrative production, than knockabout panto. Technically this show is very demanding, including multiple stage sets, flying rigs, and Tinkerbell as a bright shaft of light. It is an ambitious enterprise to take on.
Amateur companies have a big advantage over professional ones when staging musicals as they can muster the numbers onstage without crippling costs. From the opening curtain, it was clear that this was going to be a big production show with the opening song, “There’s Something in the Air Tonight “ performed as an ensemble piece. As the setting then shifts to the bedroom of the children’s home, so Dan Ankatel picked up the gauntlet, confident, convincing and perfectly cast as Mr Darling opposite Carly Highland, playing his wife. All three children bring pleasing character to their roles. Chris Buckle, the youngest, eschews the “cute kid” short cut and brings John alive. Alex Nichols offers us a well observed , reserved, almost nerdy, Michael, and Lucy Charnock is superb as Wendy, effortlessly morphing from sister to mum, with a strong singing voice in her acting armoury too.
The show lifts off, in both a literal and figurative sense, as the children travel and arrive in Neverland, with a slick, energetic, dance scene featuring the Lost Boys, a real showstopper that choreographer Maggie Jackson can be very proud of. She is fortunate that the script also requires an Indian dancing troupe, The Braves, to perform, headed by Tiger Lily . She was even more fortunate to have the lithesome Aoife Kenny in the role. Aoife danced, shimmied and strutted with an enthusiasm, dexterity and adroitness that will surely have Beyonce looking over her shoulder.
Although Peter Pan provides the billing for the show, Captain Hook provides the soul, wonderfully performed by Peter Beck . Beck, replete with long flowing locks, looked like a strange hybrid of King Louis 14th and Geezer Butler, commanding the stage whenever he appeared, ably assisted by the indefatigable Craig Allen as his sidekick Smee. The two of them providing a memorable comic pairing.
Further laughs were provided by a panto style dog and crocodile, much to the delight of the younger children within the audience. The narrator was played by the evergreen Lynne Hill with charm authority and wistfulness, embodying the spirit of the evening. Musical Director Sheila Pearson and her band performed the music with brio and elan, with the tom- tom player particularly committed to the cause. Production manager and stage manager Glyn Adams should also be congratulated for making a complex set, and the all -important flying, work so well.
This show offers a very enjoyable evening out for young, old, and the young at heart. J M Barrie wrote ““It is frightfully difficult to know much about the fairies, and almost the only thing for certain is that there are fairies wherever there are children.” That magic was captured tonight, and runs till 31st October.
This review first appeared in Behind the Arras, abridged, where a comprehensive collection of reviews from the best of Midlands theatre, from a range of reviewers, is available.