Peter Pan

Peter Pan is a very difficult production to stage. If modernised it looses a lot of its magic. If left alone it can alienate a PC theatre crowd with its 20th century imagery and possible racism. It is a technical nightmare with fights, flying, pirate ships, water and almost anything else you can imagine.

As a fight director it is a particular challenge since the tone of the fights turn on a dime second to second. One  moment its children playing, the next its life and death then its some kind of slapstick clowning. This is however, what makes the show great. 

Mark Ruddick had a lot of fun directing the fights for Paul Jepson's production of Peter Pan. The show was ambitious and experienced a lot of set backs due to technical issues came together well. Mark created a range of fights ranging from the brutal to the ridiculous and the cast rose to the challenge. The favourite fight of the whole piece was between Smee and Tigerlilly which took place eight feet above the stage and pitted cutlass against tomohawk! 

 

 The final battle between Pan and Hook

The final battle between Pan and Hook

Peter Pan. Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Lost wires, lost lines and lost voices – let alone the lost boys. Peter Pan is a highly ambitious production probably two dress rehearsals short of a first night. Already cancelled on Friday for being “not ready” the Exeter Northcott Theatre’s Christmas family show will surely improve and within a week will be a slick operation. However, on its second running, some changes need to be made.

Projection and diction. Two of the fundamentals of the theatre need to be addressed. Much of the dialogue was hard to catch from all but the main characters. Although some of the cast were mic’d-up which helped when their diction was clear (Tootles take a bow) but for others the amplification simply creates an annoying buzzing voice that is difficult to hear. For those at the back of the auditorium much of the dialogue was lost and thus the narrative too.

Paul Jepson the artistic director will no doubt sort out those issues in what is a visually exciting and creative version of J M Barrie’s 19th century fantasy play. A practical, evocative and period piece set that looks good and with its props, its different levels and doors is a masterpiece by designer Ellan Parry – one of the show’s triumphs.

There is much more to be admired in the production. The back projections blended neatly into the action adding an overall fusion of the senses. Peter’s shadow projections were exquisite. And the music and lighting blend into a visual and audio experience to give the right tone to the drama as we pitch headlong from London to Neverland, Indian encampments and the ocean awash with sea creatures. So much is pitch perfect in the production – and for the child who is experiencing live theatre for the first time it is a feast for the eyes and ears.

It was a joy to see Steve Bennett back where he belongs: centre stage at the Northcott as Mr Darling and an unlikely but welcome Tinker Bell as the frisky drag fairy.  His entrance by high wire is something that everyone in Exeter should witness. They may well say to themselves: “did I really see that?”

Talking of high wires, Peter Pan played by Laura Prior coped well with technical glitches, staying in character and winning the audience over with improvised lines and movement. Can Peter Pan be played by a female? Well in the sense that the titular character is an in-betweener aged around 10 or 11 then why not? After all Pauline Chase played the part for several years on the stage until 1913 and by tradition women have frequently played the boy who doesn’t want to grow up.

As for Captain Hook, well Kerry Peers certainly slings her hook upon the stage. In terms of being the pantomime villain perhaps she’s not frightening enough. The chief baddie of the drama is supposed to relish murdering children and Peers needs to up her fear factor although her visual persona is wicked pirate. As the children’s mother she is everything a mother should be.

Macy Nyman turned in a satisfying big sisterly performance as Wendy connecting well with the children and Peter Pan although with her harness strapped in under her lace trimmed pyjamas looked a little bulky. She like Peers, Prior and Bennett were also clearly heard with well defined voices and characters. One of the highlights of this show is to see so many children on stage – playing children. Yes, some of the voices disappear in the ensemble, but the costumes, the energy and the sheer youthful presence is just what is needed in a play about children, play acting, fantasy and make-believe.

The audience buy into the show’s ambition with applause for anything that goes wrong, or when the children fly up into the heavens, as well as the well-rehearsed set-pieces. There’s a very good fight scene when the children take on the pirates in which small boys appear to have the upper hand in fencing buccaneers. The audience would have liked to have seen more of the mermaids whose brief appearance complete with song added a musical note to the drama, and the pirates revealed they too can create music and were again underused. Missed opportunities perhaps, but in general a production that children new to the theatre will love as it improves and gains confidence and flies off to Neverland.

Harry Mottram

Continues to January 1, 2017.

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Reviews will also appear in the January edition of the online magazine.

A review from She Who Lives Theatre Blog 

Welcome to December! I can’t tell you how excited I was to wake up on the 1st and open a door on my advent calendar. You may have noticed that She Who Lives has a brand new banner for the festive season – I hope you like it!

Every year, I love filling December with fun, Christmas activities and what could be more festive than going to the theatre. Last year, I visited the Exeter Northcott Theatre to watch the wonderful Christmas Carol and last night, I returned to watch Jim Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Directed by Paul Jepson, the cast perform the classic tale of Peter Pan, a boy who can fly and never grows up. Laura Prior (Peter Pan), Kerry Peers (Hook), Steve Bennett (Tinkerbell) and Macy Nyman (Wendy) play the leading characters and are joined by a wonderfully charming cast. I thought it was great to have women playing the lead males and Bennett in a frilly, pink dress playing Tinkerbell was a humorous twist on the usually feminine and rather sassy fairy.

Of course, there was plenty of flying across the stage which added to the magic, particularly for the young children in the audience. Unfortunately, during one of the first flying scenes, their seemed to be some difficulty with attaching Peter to the safety wire resulting in Prior not being able to act out the magic of the scene. However, I have got to praise her for how well she handled the mishap. It must be awful as an actor/actress to have something unexpectedly go wrong live on stage and you have to quickly think how you are going to carry on with the scene. She recovered perfectly, being really quick off the mark and shared a joke with the audience.

Considering that most of the cast was made up of children, they all acted brilliantly! Every one of them remembered their lines perfectly and acted with wit and charismatic charm.

Usually, I hate intervals! I’m always enjoying the play too much that I can’t be bothered to sit and wait for part two to come on. However, during the interval of Peter Pan, there was some brilliant entertainment from the pirates! Smee and his fellow crew members sang some great pirate songs and even played their own instruments. It was great entertainment for those of us who couldn’t be bothered to wait in a long line for the toilet!

Part two featured a well-executed fighting scene to conclude the show. Everyone was well choreographed and everywhere you looked there was something going on.

I must also praise Ellan Parry and the team for the production design. The stage was cleverly put together and almost flowed into the audience so we felt like we were really sat in the children’s bedroom. Despite going to Neverland, the set didn’t change that much but clever visual effects and some shifting around helped us to use our imaginations.

Peter Pan is showing at the Exeter Northcott Theatre until Sunday 1st January so you still have plenty of time to go and see it. I definitely would recommend this show to children and families!