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A CurtainUp London Review
The first reference on set, is three of those imposing arches which are familiar today as the Railway Bridge over the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh. This famous cantilevered bridge was opened in 1890 and David Greig's research has uncovered the role of many small boys who worked on its construction providing the riveters with hot metal rivets. It is these children who in Grieg's play become Barrie's "Lost Boys" not the upper class children of Kensington Gardens. What was lost was their childhood for these unnamed victims of the Industrial Revolution. Wendy's father Mr Darling (Cal MacAninch), who traditionally doubles as the pirate leader Captain Hook, is a civil engineer working on the construction of the railway bridge. Darling's admonition to the workers to increase productivity by saying "Tic Tock Tic Tock" will augur the later arrival of the crocodile.
With John Tiffany directing, and many of the team that brought us, in my opinion, the greatest play of the last decade Black Watch, expectations are high. (Incidentally Black Watch is returning to London to the Barbican this Christmastime). In this production almost everyone flies, Peter (Kevin Guthrie), Wendy (Kirsty Mackay), Michael (Tom Gilles), John (Roddy Cairns) and even Captain Hook. So the fights between Hook and Pan are choreographed above the stage and more exciting for all that. In the pirate fight the vanquished fall to their deaths into the orchestra pit. The production is peppered with sea shanties and Gaelic songs for piratical and Scottish atmosphere. There is the sonorous and interesting Celtic twin fluted horn, the Irish drum the Bodhran, and musicians who hide in the darkness in the girders at the side of the stage. Hook is bare breasted apart from swirling Celtic Body Art but he wears a black kilt in a costume reference to his Scottishness. Thankfully Wendy's brothers are allowed normal pyjamas but Wendy seems to sleep in a full corset and knickerbockers.
The clever set design sees the bridge ironwork pivot and with barnacled struts this becomes the structure of the pirate ship. It is imaginative and effective giving a very versatile playing area at different levels. There are also some changes to tradition. Tiger Lily, usually the Red Indian princess, becomes two girls dressed in fur cloaks who are wolves, savage and raw Wolverinas. These same two actors (Jacqui Zvimba and Zoë Hunter) are also the personification of Nana, the dog nurse in charge of the Darling children. Nana is a large toy dog on a trolley pushed by one and emoted by the other actor. Tinkerbell the fairy is a magical element with a flame that can sit on Peter's hand or fly around or burn those that upset her. Unlike the visibility of the flying harnesses I was completely baffled as to how the fairy was so effectively staged. Tinkerbell's voice is like the guttering of a flame. The crocodile is less important here, a pair of searchlights, Disney having raised our expectations.
The opening scene has Peter walking down at right angles to a vertical drop on the proscenium arch. Peter Pan with his red hair gelled into the Pan God's horns is a more alien figure and the ending is altogether darker and which small children might find frightening. Peter's refusal to grow up and cope with disappointment is dealt with by David Greig as the reaction of a spoilt, petulant child when he visits the grown up Wendy, now a mother herself. Peter Pan is usually a standard Christmas time theatrical feast so it is unusual seeing it indoors in Summer. This spectacular production is also aimed at an older audience but I fear the perception will be that Barrie's plot lacks the sophistication to satisfy adults.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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