Alexander Vlahos (Captain Hook) in Peter Pan at Park Theatre. Photo credit - Chris Gardner
Revisiting the original text of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in 2018 – and setting it in the present day – is, to misquote Hook himself, an awfully big adventure, but it’s one that the Park Theatre production largely proves to be worthwhile. With a cast of eight and most of the usual elaborate settings and characters jettisoned – apart from the flying – this is a pared back and text-focussed piece performed by a versatile ensemble cast.
Jonathan O’Boyle mentions in the programme notes that he appeared in the play once himself while at school, and he maintains here the usual tradition of his part then, Mr Darling, being played by the actor who also plays Hook. Alexander Vlahos is suitably threatening in the role of Hook although more in a kind of insinuating and creepy way than the usual bombastic villain. He also seemed to be struggling through with a cold but the resulting husky voice suited the characterisation, and he was also adept at picking up on sharp responses and reactions from among the children in the audience.
Opposite him, Nickcolia King-N’Da is a sympathetic Peter who grew in stature as the play progressed and he flew well too, although he was curiously dressed in a military tunic. Barrie’s original stage directions call for a costume of autumn leaves held together with cobwebs, but in this production the autumn leaves, a signal of time passing and glorious times coming to an end, are on the ground. They also, in a neat coup de theatre at the beginning of the performance, reform to create a puppet Nana, skilfully operated by Alfie Webster despite the table-lamp head which seemed devoid of character; this dog was much more effective when seen from the side.
Natalie Grady gives us a more unusual doubling of Mrs Darling, gracious and sad, and a rather underused Smee. Adam Buchanan is an enthusiastic Michael with a very large teddy bear helping to mitigate his own adult height, and Jason Kajdi made as much as anyone can of the sometimes irritating John – not a character, one feels, for whom Barrie felt much empathy. Alfie Webster plays a couple of pirates when not operating Nana, and Harveen Mann plays all the others as well as Liza, in a variety of accents and costumes.
The evening performance attended was mostly composed of adults but the children there were engrossed from the beginning, and it was good to see Tinkerbell quite properly left to their imaginations; and there was never any doubt that they would clap enthusiastically to indicate their belief in her. In this production the crocodile was largely imaginary too, and the mermaids were indicated by a spurt of water, the only times in which I felt the aesthetic had been pared back too far. At close quarters, the limited amount of flying seemed more effective with the wire much less visible when the flyer was almost above our heads – although sadly the harness pulling on the costume rather diminished this effect.
Despite these small reservations, this was a brave and largely successful attempt to revisit a classic text and which is likely to enthral families of all ages. There will be many Peter Pans playing at theatres around the country this Christmas but there is unlikely to be another one which is as close to Barrie’s vision.
Nickcolia King-N'Da (Peter Pan) and Rosemary Boyle (Wendy) in Peter Pan at Park Theatre. Photo credit - Chris Gardner