Peter Pan - 21 May 2015 Review

Inspired but needs more time to flourish.

Going to the Regents Park Open Air Theatre is always one of the highlights of my year; it is a beautiful and almost magical place. What better setting for a production of J.M. Barrie’s fairy-tale Peter Pan?

It is interesting that Barrie’s name was specifically left in the title of this piece when the interpretation of his text was pretty radical. Directors Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel frame the play with war victims in hospital beds regaling childhood stories to help them escape the horror of their situation. Amid screams to their mother, the men become boys again (the lost boys of the classic tale) where warfare is simple child's play with wooden swords and damp cake. Tinging this beloved tale with even more sadness than the text already implies could be a stroke of theatrical genius. Whilst there was definite potential, I think this needed a touch more work in this production.

David Birrell as Captain Hook (1). Photo Tristram Kenton

The concept was strong and I delighted at moments the two worlds were brought together; war songs from the troupes sung through scene changes, haunting steampunk mermaids wearing gasmasks, a gaslight Tinkerbell. Rachael Canning's puppet designs were inspired, as was their use throughout the show. I enjoyed moments of puppetry so much, I wish there had been even more of it.

The cast had serious potential, with some diverse casting making for a stimulating arrangement of actors. Hiran Abeysekera was infectiously enthusiastic as Peter, Kea Alexander struck the right maternal yet ballsy chord as Wendy Darling and the Lost Boys were a found joy, especially the hilarious George Bukhari as Nibs.

Hiran Abeysekera and David Birrell as Peter Pan and Hook. Photo Tristram Kenton

Perhaps my favourite performance of the evening came from the matron turned pirate, Smee, bouncily played by the mirthful Beverly Rudd. Casting director Polly Jerrold’s decision to cast a woman in this role was fun and effective.

Despite performer’s abilities, there were a few moments of out of time marching and some awkward flying rig attachments that I can only imagine will smooth over in time.

Hiran Abeysekera as Peter Pan (1). Photo Tristram Kenton

My lasting thought was, whilst Sheader and Liam definitely created moments of poignancy, it just didn’t quite come together with the whopping great emotional boom it should have. There was not enough call back to war terror to be a hard hitting piece of adult theatre and there was not quite enough magic and colour to be a visual playground for the children in the audience. Who is this show aimed at? I am not sure it has quite decided yet.

I think that this interpretation of Peter Pan could be a masterpiece, but it needs more time, development and rehearsal.

Peter Pan runs at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre until June 14th.

21 May 2015, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre