When he was a child, Peter Pan ran away to Kensington Gardens. He’s still a child, of course, and he’s still in the gardens ... and literally so. There’s a big white pavilion with all mod cons in the park for the summer, and Peter, Wendy and the rest are flying around inside, surrounded by computer generated imagery projected on the roof inside through 360 degrees.
It’s a stunning design by William Dudley, his most successful yet in this field of environmental CGI, as it suits this story better than those of The Coast of Utopia and The Woman in White and is more wittily meshed with the stage level designs and the psychology of the characters.
The idea that there is another, alternative world lurking inside the everyday representation of escapism is the fairytale mainspring of J M Barrie’s imperishable 1904 play. And, following the example of Trevor Nunn and John Caird at the RSC (and the National), adaptor Tanya Ronder and director Ben Harrison include the fictional coda as Peter flies back to the Darling household years later to ensnare Wendy’s daughter and renew the magic of fresh possibilities in Bayswater.
The flight of the children across London, past Nelson’s Column, St Paul’s and shooting through Tower Bridge is a thrilling experience, and all the more so for having a theatrical dimension in the cinematic. But perhaps even more extraordinary is the projection of the rippling lagoon, complete with sandy beaches and palm trees around the pirate ship, the stage as the deck and the poop, with a virtual prow that is reproduced in real scenery for Peter’s duel with Captain Hook.
The imagery never distracts attention from the actors. And in Ciaran Kellgren and Abby Ford, we have as strong a Peter and Wendy as any in living memory. Kellgren is puckish, dashing and splendidly malevolent, while the whole major theme of missing maternity and seeking a home is carried in Ford’s generous, touching and energetic performance.
Nor has there been a better recent Hook than Jonathan Hyde’s magniloquent, strutting grandee, a palpable extension of a bad-tempered Mr Darling kicking poor old Nanny (and her War Horse-style puppeteer) down the stairs. Nanny, the goose and a skeletal, belching crocodile, are wonderful creations by Sue Buckmaster. There’s a punkish, graceful Tinkerbell from the Catalan actress Itxaso Moreno, and good support from Ian Hughes’ domesticated Smee.