The first play I ever saw was Peter Pan - in fact, it was Alastair Sims' barnstorming Captain Hook that really opened my eyes to the magic of the theatre.
But how would the present generation cope with JM Barrie's classic? Some of the exotic elements of the original (the Red Indians, for example) are rather dated and, thanks to the wonders of cinematic special effects, we're used to seeing people flying. So is this play still a cause of wonderment? To gain the benefit of an expert's pair of eyes, I took my nine-year-old nephew Damani with me (his view follows).
The first difficulty for a director tackling Peter Pan is to decide whether to handle it as straight play or as pantomime. Steven Dexter opts for the first option. So, rather than being played by a woman, the part of Peter falls to the young actor Jack Blumenau complete with rather un-Edwardian Gareth Gates' hairstyle. (The effort for authenticity is, however, rather spoiled by casting young adults as the Lost Boys.)
In truth, Blumenau makes a good stab at the title role, although Pan's famous line at the end of the first half, about death being an awfully big adventure, is rather washed out.
What is really lost in Dexter's production is the sexuality of the play. A lot of the focus is on Wendy's blossoming and the relationship between her and Peter, but, while Dexter recognises this, the interplay between Katie Foster-Barnes' Wendy and Blumenau's Peter doesn't really convince. Wisely perhaps, the play's Freudian subtext isn't explored too deeply.
The on-stage activity also generates less audience participation than might be expected. On the night I attended, the clapping to rescue Tinkerbell was rather half-hearted - we may have just saved her life, but I reckon she's still in intensive care. There was also very little booing of Anthony Head's Hook, a cheerfully suave pirate, revelling in his villainy and rolling out his lines like an actor-manager of old.
There are some better moments, particularly a panto performance from David Burt mugging furiously as Mr Darling. There's also a neat touch from designer Francis O'Connor who transforms the nursery furniture into London landmarks as the children fly to Never Never Land.
A pretty good night out then and some of the magic remains; the play can still keep children entranced for two hours even though they might find more diverting entertainment this Christmas.
- Maxwell Cooter
Nine-year-old Damani Richards' FOUR-STAR verdict:
I went to see this with my uncle Max as he's a critic. I thought that it was exciting and funny. I liked the bit where Captain Hook sat down and he was sitting on the chimney and burned himself. My favourite character was Tootles (Bennett Andrews) because he was silly. But I thought Captain Hook was good, and I liked it when he was eaten by the crocodile. And I liked the dog (Mark Oxtoby), his barking was very real.