Peter Pan (Keswick, Theatre by the Lake)

”Peter Pan” truly flies during moments that involve local children, says Stephen Longstaffe.

Peter Pan
Peter Pan
© Theatre by the Lake

Theatre by the Lake’s Christmas goes back to the source with the play in which J M Barrie first explored at length the character of (the novel came later).

Though the story’s emphasis on children’s playful imagination (flying, pirates, injuns) is well known, this play has a more thoughtful, and at times unexpectedly moving, spine. The Lost Boys of Neverland can’t remember what mothers are, or whether they had one.

Peter needs looking after (and as the play’s over a hundred years old, his expectations of Wendy don’t make him a poster boy for equal opportunities). The Darlings return one night to find three empty beds and henceforth leave the window open at night in the hope their children will return.

And when Peter finally does come back for Wendy, as agreed, she is grown up with a daughter of her own – who in her turn flies away to Neverland. Isabella Marshall’s Wendy is hardly a little girl at all, in contrast to her brothers (Matthew Coulton and Meilir Rhys Williams) who easily slot in as extra Lost Boys.

This serious undercurrent leaves Peter Pan halfway between panto and play, though only once, when Tinkerbell has drunk Peter’s poisoned medicine, is the audience directly addressed.

However, the lighter elements of this production are indeed great fun. In best Wizard of Oz fashion Peter Macqueen doubles Mr Darling and Captain Hook. Hook dances with joy at the thought of besting Peter Pan, but his pirates (Mark Huckett, Gary Stoner and Harry Livingstone) are a fairly gormless lot, easily disposed of by Peter in a fair fight. Luke Jerdy brings a powerful wistfulness to the lead role.

But the stars of the show are really the local children who play birds, sea creatures, Indians, and lost boys (on the night I went it was the Blue Team).

Directors Mary Papadima and Ian Forrest coax some very good performances out of their ensemble and their enthusiasm, energy and pathos they bring to the stage help the show to fly.

Peter Pan is at the Theatre by the Lake until 31 January.