“Why do they keep doing Peter Pan”? This was something I said to my friend after I watched the largely perfunctory Disney live-action adaptation, Peter Pan and Wendy. It was then with a slight heavy heart, that I sat down to watch Slapstick Picnic’s 3-hander adaptation. Promotional words such as “hectic” and “breakneck” suggest a show that is dangerously close to being out of control and indulgent.
It was then to my surprise, that this funny, quirky, and charming production provided everything that’s been lacking from most recent big-budget adaptations.
With a minimal but multi-levelled set that resembles a cross between a children’s nursery and a playground, the story romps along at a fair lick. It delivers all the classic Peter Pan set pieces that you might expect but delivered in a manner, not dissimilar to the way that Wendy and her brothers act out stories of Cinderella and dastardly pirates; an “on the fly” and “dress up” approach to storytelling that suits its story and beautifully theatrical setting.
The show also expertly embraces its theatricality and does not try to hide how it’s conjuring its own effects: a blow-up swimming pool crocodile in particular is hilariously used. I found this to be a great touch as it provided a self-aware style to proceedings without compromising the enjoyment of the story.
A show like this either succeeds or fails on the strength of its cast, and it’s safe to say that the three players all performed their roles with slick aplomb. A particular stand out is Lucy Green as Wendy and Captain Hook, respectively. Green expertly portrays the innocence of the former whilst also relishing every pantomime baddie nuance of the latter. A particular highlight was Wendy’s descent into the monotony of becoming the Lost Boys’ “mother”, a complex motif from the original novel, played up to great effect here.
Despite all the humour, slapstick and silliness that this show provides in spades, what most impressed me was its faithfulness to the J.M. Barrie text. Whilst an adventure story, Peter Pan works best when it deals with adolescence and the relationship between parents and children. I am pleased to report that Slapstick Picnic did not shy away from this whilst telling it in a palatable way for its younger audience. The scenes of Peter reminiscing on how “the window was shut” as his mother forgot him, were sensitively played by William Ross-Fawcett. All of this came together in a melancholy ending that reminded me of the underrated Finding Neverland.
Despite the reality of a rainy Thursday evening in Covent Garden, for 120 minutes, families were entranced throughout and fully engaged in the story. It is a huge credit to the cast and director, Nel Crouch for delivering an expert piece of children’s theatre that celebrates silliness.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Peter Pan is on at St. Paul’s Church until the 15th of July – info here!
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