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Peter Pan: ample charm and an excellent hero – but why no flying?

Peter Pan, at the Rose Theatre, Kingston
Peter Pan, at the Rose Theatre, Kingston - Mark Douet

There’s a plenitude of Peter Pans this year, from the galumphing panto at the Bristol Hippodrome to a touring arena extravaganza, past Peter Pan on Ice at Alexandra Palace and on to a musical version in Birmingham and the hit spoof Peter Pan Goes Wrong in the West End.

Pan is a perennial favourite, of course, but its spike in visibility seems to indicate an understandable collective yearning for flight – away from the confines of the domestic (post-pandemic) and off to a place that, for all its swash-buckling danger, offers freedom from adult cares and woes.

The best stage adaptations honour the quaintness and charm of JM Barrie’s original play/book, his adoration of childhood’s imagination-charged sense of possibility too. Good ones also serve the action in a way that answers the story’s aching melancholy: that we must grow up, and there is little way of sheltering from the grey battlefield of life. The superb Olivier-nominated version at Regent’s Park of 2015 compounded the fervour of youth and the grief of mortality by harnessing Barrie’s gung-ho Edwardian escapism to the outcome of doomed First World War soldiers.

In its favour, Evan Placey’s new adaptation at the Rose loyally retains the original’s period sweetness. This is a Christmas Eve tale told by a grandmother to her grandson (who never wants to grow up). It begins, as it should, in the Darling nursery, with the nannyish dog Nana banished and Mr and Mrs Darling fatefully leaving the coast clear for the story-hungry Peter, first seen as a looming silhouette in Lucy Morrell’s production.

Placey’s neat twist is to foreground a tussle between Wendy and Mrs Darling. The stroppy adolescent (finely played on opening night by Isla Griffiths, one of many in the theatre’s youth group who are vitally populating the show) berates her cash-strapped mater for being domineering: “I want to never become like you!”. She duly realises how difficult motherhood is when she’s faced with the task of supervising Pan’s motley crew of lost children.

Peter Pan, at the Rose Theatre, Kingston
Peter Pan, at the Rose Theatre, Kingston - Mark Douet

With Mrs and Mr D (Michelle Bishop and Dominic Rye) re-appearing as the snarling Hook and her sidekick Smee (the dog a pirate companion too), we get a Wizard of Oz-y, dream-like voyage into a related world where key life-lessons are learned, and wisdom acquired. To the show’s credit, this is articulated but not crudely rammed home.

That said, although Morrell and her creative team make inventive use of the space – with striking tableaux nicely achieved in recesses above a grand set of stairs – the lack of bona fide “flying” is a slight let-down, the children hoisted aloft, in the first instance, by other cast-members. And while Vikki Stone’s sprinkling of musical numbers possess a boppy, galvanic appeal, they often seem to belong to a more modish realm.

There’s no faulting Kaine Ruddach as a face-painted Pan, though: a winning figure of boyish assurance, dauntless but not disagreeably so. If, overall, this ranks as a partially successful re-jig, it’s a sufficient pleasure all the same.


Until Jan 7. Tickets: 020 8174 0090; rosetheatre.org

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