Peter Pan - A Musical Adventure, seen last year at Birmingham Rep in what I termed a “no-holds-barred production” full of “spectacle, humour and magic”, seems, if anything, more upfront than ever as it transfers to the West Yorkshire Playhouse whilst last year’s equally successful The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe makes the reverse journey to Birmingham.
This version of Peter Pan, first seen in 1996, is an extremely skilful filleting of J.M. Barrie’s play by the late Willis Hall, using a Storyteller to take us through the familiar narrative of the adventures of the Darling children with Peter Pan, Lost Boys, Pirates and Red Indians, and the final return to responsibility for all except Peter.
Hall’s version preserves the essence of the original while making room for over a dozen songs, plus numerous reprises, by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The comic songs, full of zest, silliness and ingenious rhymes, are a joy and even the fashionable songs of personal empowerment are, at least, well in character and powerfully performed.
The staging is as opulent as it is imaginative. Peter McKintosh’s designs lend themselves equally to evocative tableaux and thrilling transformations, aided by the atmospheric lighting of Paul Pyant and the proactive sound plot of Mike Walker, not to mention the seamlessly integrated flying scenes (by Freedom Flying) and George Stiles’ musical underscoring (Stephen Ridley heading a versatile seven-piece). Add in assorted illusions (such as the will-o’-the-wisp Tinkerbell), an immense, surprisingly mobile crocodile and the floppiest of Newfoundland dogs and you’ve pretty much taken care of the magic quotient.
The casting in Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is generous, with over 20 in the cast and very little doubling beyond the traditional Mr. Darling/Captain Hook. In the only holdover in a principal part from last year, David Birrell has lost nothing of his fastidious cruelty as the pirate and seems to have added a layer of ridiculous dignity to Mr. Darling. His ineffective crew are better at singing than slaying, with a sympathetic comic turn from Martin Callaghan as the terminally indecisive Smee.
The Lost Boys do well by some jolly choreography by Jenny Arnold and there are good performances all down the line, from Alwyne Taylor’s Storyteller, a rather more emphatic interpretation than at Birmingham, to Jake Abbott, at the age of 8 already able to time a punch-line! James Gillan’s well sung and athletic Peter Pan rather overdoes the charm, but there is a perfect Wendy from Amy Lennox, able simultaneously to project total sincerity and gentle self-parody.