Peter Pan, Barbican Theatre, London
Monday 24 May 2010
Peter Pan in May? It sounds counter-intuitive, like the thought of being propositioned under the mistletoe on midsummer's day. Exciting, with its aerial, bungee-jumping battles, and piercingly persuasive about the emotional pain at the heart of this myth, the National Theatre of Scotland's splendid new version of J M Barrie's great prototype proves, however, that Peter Pan is a play for all seasons.
Dramatist David Greig and director John Tiffany have set themselves a two-fold task. They are bent on reconnecting the story with Barrie's native Scotland and they are keen on removing the twee and replacing it with the tough, and they are successful on both fronts.
The proceedings have been shifted from Edwardian England to Victorian Scotland, with Mr Darling now the chief engineer on the construction of the Forth Railway Bridge whose not-yet-completed arches swivel round to become the mossy trees of Neverland. The cocky young navvies, showing off to a bored Wendy, metamorphose into hard, tattooed pirates. Cal MacAninch's alarming Hook is no bewigged Etonian fop but a shaven-headed heavy; Tinkerbell flaps furiously through the air like a tropical fish of flame.
The show is even better at pinpointing and amplifying what is inherently heartbreaking. Dark, bare-chested, on the verge of virile, the excellent newcomer, Kevin Guthrie, is an almost-feral Peter, bringing out the charismatic dangerousness and untouchability of this gang-leading permanent outsider. But he also shows you the vulnerability and intimidating defensiveness.
While scrupulously true to the spirit of the original, Greig inventively highlights some of its less acknowledged impulses. The most striking move is the presentation of Wendy (superbly portrayed by Kirsty Mackay) as the play's central, emotionally developing protagonist. Feisty and self-possessed, this Wendy is amusingly reluctant at first to be a mother to the Lost Boys. But she's also capable of feeling woundedly betrayed by Peter's irresponsible absences. The two actors achingly suggest the underlying sexual attraction that is stymied by Peter's wilful refusal to enter into the swim of time. A wonderful reinvention of an inexhaustibly potent myth.
To 29 May (0845 120 7550)
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