What are the things that spring to mind when you think of Peter Pan? The Second Star to the Right, Following the Leader, that naughty little Barbie-doll fairy in a green tutu?
Yep, Disney’s rather hijacked the entire story and cornered the market in iconic imagery and definitive songs. Which makes any attempt at refreshing the century-old tale with modern sensibilities and a new score about as futile as Captain Hook’s efforts to kill Pan himself.
Unfortunately, composer-lyricist Julian Ronnie’s sub-Lloyd Webber tunes and lazy rhyming couplets, together with a limp and unimaginative script by collaborator Paul Miller and director David Taylor, do little to help reclaim JM Barrie’s original magical fantasy.
There’s much to recommend this show, and it’s plain to see where the budget’s been spent. It looks fabulous, with sumptuous sets, backdrops and scenery from designer Simon Higlett, and the choreography by Bill Deamer is always sharp and full of energy.
In the pit, too, the seven-piece band under Chris Newton work Phil Edwards’s orchestrations to their best advantage. But none of it, however hard-working the cast and crew, can make this a silk purse, and Lauren Samuels as a sweet Wendy and Spencer Charles Noll as a feisty, fisticuffing Peter are always fighting an uphill battle.
The pirates come out of it best, with Paul Baker an amusing enough Smee, but when you find yourself looking for bits of the set to admire in a production, you know there’s something wrong at the heart of things.
Director Taylor shows nowhere near enough of a firm hand in pulling things together, and it’s only when the dance numbers get going that there’s any sense of cohesion. Taylor must also share the responsibility for not enough work going into the raw material, which leaves not only the workings of this inside-out venue on display, but also the mechanics of Peter’s so-called flying.
For a show so heavily dependent on all the magic that theatre can muster, it’s in serious need of a liberal sprinkling of fairy dust.