I've always felt uneasy about Peter Pan, perhaps because I've never seen a production that goes in wholeheartedly for either Edwardian charm or pagan passion. This one does neither, but JM Barrie's weird combination of the two strains is probably irreconcilable - the right audience for it would seem to be not children on a jolly outing with parents but several hundred buttoned-up men of confused sexuality.
Steven Dexter's production will not please them, nor theatregoers who just want to revel in a spectacle of magic and fantasy. Granted, this Peter Pan is here for a limited run, but the sets are horrible sugary-flimsy stuff, the Lost Boys' home a field of polka-dot toadstools that would look more at home in Noddy-land than Neverland. The tameness and mediocrity of the production are encapsulated in Jack Blumenau's Peter, a sharp-featured 17-year-old who is about as dangerous as the hedgehog whose hairdo he has been given. Barrie's hero should be a tousle-haired, fearless little animal, quicksilver in mood and movement. Blumenau, however, is drab and plodding - when his good fairy swallows the medicine that Captain Hook has spiked (the director's lax handling of the scene is also at fault), he says, "Tinkerbell drank the poison to save my life" with no anguish or ferocity. Not that one can feel too saddened by the loss of a such a cheapskate fairy - a mere roving spotlight with a giggle.
Katie Foster-Barnes makes an impressively convincing Wendy - her acting has the right formality for the period, and her articulation is splendid. She is a bit prim - one can't really credit this well-behaved child offering to kiss the handsome boy who steals into her bedroom. But a Wendy who embodied the female qualities Barrie could evoke only to push away would not become the surrogate-mummy who sits darning socks while the boys fly off to have adventures. (Why does she have to darn the blasted things anyway? If Peter can fly all around London as well as Neverland, why doesn't he just zip into Selfridges?)
Anthony Head's Captain Hook cheered me up. Not only are his cultured tones a relief from the childish piping, but his performance has lots of funny little touches, such as the little jig his legs do when he thinks up some piece of wickedness. Ultimately, though, he is too low-key for this festival of froth.
As Mrs Darling, Kathryn Evans played her part beautifully, with a slight suggestion of the scatty comic actress Billie Burke. David Burt, though, was unpleasantly hammy as her husband. And there was one piece of extremely bad casting. The dog that played Nana was, I'm afraid, not up to the part at all. With her silly, immovable face, clumsy movements and white-rimmed eyes, one would think the part was played by an actor dressed up as a dog.
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