The Yvonne Arnaud's Youth Theatre is considered to a gold standard amongst youth theatres and, when seeing Peter Pan it's not hard to see why. A large group of incredibly talented youngsters take on JM Barrie's classic and manage to capture the magic and innocence of the story about a young boy who never wants to grow up.
Directors Julia Black, Adam Forde and Lucy Betts cleverly use the varying age groups to create different groups of adventurous characters with the little ones playing a rag-tag bunch of lost boys and the older ones becoming a gruesome gang of pirates. This dynamic gives the show a sense of gravitas and keeps Barrie's original youth versus adults subtext.
Taking on the role of Peter is the whimsical Kate Burgess who is suitably spritely and selfish enough to entice Lucy Pollock's Wendy to run away with him to Neverland. Pollock keeps Wendy young enough to still be a girl, but holds on the Victorian stiff-upper lip that keeps this production firmly in play, rather than pantomime, territory.
Similarly Cameron Manson plays Captain Hook with excellent self-restraint and does away with over-the-top villainy to give an excellent performance. The highlight of the show is Luke Pitman's Smee. Bounding and tumbling like a buffoonish acrobat with elastic facial expressions and superb vocal pacing, he has the audience in stitches and would suit any number of Shakespeare's clown roles perfectly.
The set is minimal to allow room for an ensemble of over 80 performers but it taps into the audience's imagination, which is surely the true essence of Peter Pan. Fankie Huin-Wah's costumes delightfully nods to a children's dressing-up box with Peter Pan's grass covered bowler hat sending up pretensions of masculinity and the mermaids dressed in dishevelled elegant ball gowns. Justin Sutton's lighting design overcomes numerous difficulties such as Peter Pan's shadow and has the whole production in vivid Technicolor.
Bringing together the crème of Guildford's young performers, the Yvonne Arnaud Youth Theatre raises the bar of youth productions and there are sure to be bright futures for all involved.
- Roz Carter