For a play about the boy who wouldn’t grow up, the Mabou Mines version of Peter and Wendy can’t decide quite how adult it wants to be. Using puppets, the production tells the Peter Pan story, complete with Captain Hook and the crocodile. At the same time, it lingers on ideas of motherhood and of growing up as a terrible loss. In the end, the two sides slide out of focus.
Returning to the Edinburgh International Festival, the New York theatre company Mabou Mines is a collaborative ensemble. The show is adapted and produced by Liza Lorwin, and directed by the company’s co-founder Lee Breuer.
This staging starts with J M Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy, rather than his earlier versions of the story. The Narrator, played by Karen Kandel, tells the story in the third person, adopting voices for the characters. Her Wendy coos and chuckles like a very young child. Peter has a wayward Scottish accent (tricky, in a performance in Edinburgh). Like Johnny Cunningham’s folk-inflected music, this is to stress Barrie’s own Scottish upbringing.
Barrie’s text is witty and troubling. His fantasy of childhood keeps returning to the idea of growing up as if prodding at a wound. The child Wendy is insistently cast as a little mother, rushed
into an adult role. Meeting Peter as an adult, she immediately feels “helpless and guilty, a big woman” – for having dared to grow older.
This adaptation dwells on these |moments, but is strangely bland about them. The pain and weirdness of |Barrie’s tale is underplayed, spaced out between the famous set pieces.
Wendy (and her mother, Mrs Darling) are acted by Kandel. The other characters are worked by on-stage puppeteers: empty nightshirts for the Darling children, elaborate Peter and Captain Hook puppets, blank wooden figures for the Lost Boys. Neverland is conjured out of nursery sheets and furniture.
That can mean a lot of on-stage preparation for a disappointingly small pay-off. Fine though the Peter and Hook puppets are, they don’t keep us fully inside the make-believe world.
Barrie’s invention and charm do come through, though, most satisfyingly in Nana the dog, a dark shape with floppy ears and a long nose, scurrying about the stage with splendidly doggy body language.Reuse content