”Peter Pan and Wendy” at Pitlochry Festival Theatre – review

Colin McCredie and Deirdre Davis in Peter Pan and Wendy
Colin McCredie and Deirdre Davis in Peter Pan and Wendy
© Fraser Band

Christmas shows tend to fall into two broad categories. On the one hand, you have the pantomimes, the one-off sort of show that’s big on audience participation, thick with performing tradition, and full of the sort of nonsense you only get at this time of year. On the other, you get straight plays on a festive theme such as A Christmas Carol or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; shows with a wintry setting that are magic-heavy and family-friendly.

Aside from some slightly half-hearted audience participation, Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Peter Pan and Wendy is definitely in the latter category, but mostly without the festive theme. A few Christmas carols play over the speakers as the audience takes its seat but, beyond a tokenistic reference to Christmas Eve, there is nothing Christmassy in the rest of the show. It would work just as well in midsummer as in midwinter, and that’s a strength because it’s enchanting enough without any Christmas trappings.

J M Barrie’s immortal tale revolves around the story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up and, while all the parts are played by adults in Janys Chambers’ adaptation, there’s a definite dividing line between the children and the grown-ups. Sometimes that comes across more in naivety than design. As Peter, for example, Robbie Scott sometimes seems to be feeling his way through the role rather than hurling himself into its defiant energy. Elsewhere, though, Fiona Wood’s Wendy is full of childish wonderment, and Ruairidh McDonald fills John’s part with can-do boyishness. Best of all is Patricia Panther, who struts and huffs her way through Tinkerbell’s role with lots of foot-stamping energy and a rage that’s half spoilt brat, half punk. The show lifts every time she comes onstage.

The actors playing Hook and Smee double up as Mr and Mrs Darling. It’s hard to tell whether that’s an attempt to make a deeper point or whether it’s just a wise use of limited resources. Either way, Deirdre Davis is very watchable as both a tormented mother and a reluctant pirate. Colin McCredie’s delivery of his lines is a little undercooked in both his roles, but he’s gleefully overdressed as Hook. Delme Thomas is the only actor who plays both child (a Lost Boy) and adult (a string of pirates that allows him to practice all of his accent training), but his multiple absurd deaths provided lots of comic relief.

Some of the steam goes out of the show’s second half: the setpieces are rather static, Tinkerbells’s death-and-resurrection is pretty clunky, and no one looks as though they’re really trying in the fight scenes. However, that’s all but redeemed by the absurdly over-the-top appearance of the crocodile, which makes a scene-stealing climax.

Elsewhere, Ben Occhipinti’s production makes a virtue of simplicity. The acting space is a plain white disc, and they don’t even try to hide the harnesses which power the flying scenes. There’s still plenty of suspension-of-disbelief, though, even from a forty-something cynic like me, and nothing detracts from a show that’s never less than charming.