A few fortunate novelists and playwrights have created fiction which becomes assimilated into our language. Heller’s Catch 22 and Orwell’s 1984 have a life beyond their original creations, and so it is true of Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.
The idea of a young boy who never grows up celebrates childhood both for those who as children are still enjoying that time, and those of us who reflect back wistfully on a more innocent age.Director Sarah Brigham has stayed true to the traditional values of this story whilst rebooting it for a 21st century audience from Mike Kenny’s adaptation.
Neverland, the Lost Boys, flying, fairies, pirates, mermaids, Native Americans, and Hook are reassuringly prominent, but an original score, played live on stage gives the production a contemporary immediacy as all declare that they are “never ever going to grow up”.
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, its timeless appeal drew three generations to Derby Theatre on Press night and I had Harry, aged six, and Jacob aged five, to give me their first hand, first time, assessment of the show.
From the opening curtain, it was clear that this was going to be a big production show with the opening song, Never Growing Up, performed as an ensemble piece, encouraging the audience to clap and sing along from the start.
As the setting then shifts to the bedroom of the children’s home, so Neal Craig picked up the gauntlet, confident, convincing and perfectly cast as Mr Darling opposite Elizabeth Eves, playing his wife.
All three children were a delight. Julian Capolei, Ru Hamilton, the youngest, eschews the “cute kid” short cut and oozes character, Sally Ann Staunton is superb as Wendy, effortlessly morphing from sister to mum, with a strong singing voice. The initially mute Tinkerbell, engagingly played by Esme Sears, comes into her own when bursting into song with a wonderful vocal. The simple, functional and effective set by Neil Irish impressed, Tim Heywood’s costumes were colourful and awash with youthful zest.
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 Kitty Winter can be very proud of. She is fortunate that the script also requires an Indian dancing troupe, The Braves, to perform, headed by Elizabeth Eves howling them on, which was a brilliant ensemble set piece. The principle cast assumed multi-roles effortlessly, and seamlessly.
Although Peter Pan provides the billing for the show, Captain Hook provides the soul, wickedly performed by Neal Craig, commanding the stage whenever he appeared. Peter Pan and Hook fought it out with the audience in no doubt as to who the winner should be.
Our resident young critics Harry and Jacob declared that “the goodest bit was when Hook got scared from the crocodile”, which had risen up from a trap door to the delight of the many children in the audience. The show kept their attention throughout, never outstaying its welcome.
The scene when a panto dog was tricked into taking its medicine concealed in its water had the youngsters scowling in horror and disgust.
This show offers a hugely enjoyable evening out for the 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, in a fine show and runs till Saturday 6th January, 2018.