Peter Pan, Kensington Gardens, London
A grown-up adventure in 3D
Monday 15 June 2009
To die would be an awfully big adventure, nearly as big as getting lost in Kensington Gardens, which I managed to do on my way to find Peter Pan flying home to his Bayswater oasis. Then suddenly it loomed: a big white marquee with adjoining pavilion and an auditorium of over 1,000 seats.
A seemingly nutcase summer project turns out to be a real surprise. The big top atmosphere is perfect for Peter and the Darling children to fly through the air on elaborate coat-hangers, and they are joined by a sparkling, aerial Tinkerbell in a pink tutu and permanent scowl, and some wonderful post-War Horse puppetry for Nana the dog, the pet ostrich and the crocodile, the skeletal croc with a clock.
The circular environment, designed as a large bedroom easily converted to the dream world of Neverland and the piratical deck, is sensationally complemented by William Dudley's wrap-around cinematic projections, taking us on a 3D journey across the London landscape to the fantasy lagoon and the make-believe world of Tiger Lily and Captain Hook.
So, the show becomes the very best sort of tourist attraction: Peter Pan in its virtually "real" location. In the novel, which followed the play, J M Barrie has Peter explain himself to Wendy as a city boy running away "to have fun" in Kensington Gardens. The first images, projected around our heads are of Edwardian rooftops in Ladbroke Grove. And the mermaid's lagoon is a fantasy version of the Serpentine, and maybe Hook's cabin is the pavilion at the end of the Italian Gardens.
But none of this swamps the dramatic content. When Tinkerbell (the Catalan actress Itxaso Moreno) swallows the poisonous medicine, she lies backwardly prostrate while Peter whispers that he believes in fairies without asking us to join him; though we do, of course. They fly through the stars, the theatre transformed to the Planetarium for the famous cry, "And now to rescue Wendy!" Lord, how we cheered.
Peter is devilishly embodied by Ciaran Kellgren, relocating the travesty tradition (the role was always played by a woman – from Nina Boucicault to Maggie Smith) firmly in one of boyish, mother-seeking charm. Kellgren's the best new actor I've seen this year, and he is perfectly matched by the more experienced Abby Ford as Wendy, a slight but steely red-haired girl-woman who embraces her caring destiny with deadly seriousness.
Barrie's 1904 masterpiece was reclaimed for the modern theatre by the Trevor Nunn and John Caird 1982 RSC revival, their inspirational follow-up to Les Miserables. This revival, adapted by Tanya Ronder and very well directed by site-specific specialist Ben Harrison, follows that example in many respects, not least in the coda where Wendy shuts the window on Peter now that she's fulfilled that maternal destiny in real, "boring" life.
And Captain Hook is restored to rip-roaring mock-tragedian status in Jonathan Hyde's performance. Like Abby Ford, he forges a poignant connection to his outer life as Mr Darling, the writhing tormented pirate prefiguring the wretched city slicker paying for his crimes in the dog kennel. Hyde is a throwback actor, using his voice like a volley of muskets and pictorially reinforcing the idea that Hook might have visually resembled the statue of William of Orange in the park outside.
There's a jolly band of trembling pirates, a charming low-key Smee from Ian Hughes, a sexy Tiger Lily from Amber Rose Revah and an anxiety-ridden Mrs Darling from Karen Ascoe. The costumes (also created by Dudley) are outstanding, and the music of Benjamin Wallfisch a splendid conflation of cinematic and theatrical sound score writing.
To 30 August (0871 386 1122; www.visitlondon.com/peterpan)
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