Theatre Peter Pan West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

'John Padden's excellent Peter is a spirited, careless boy, but he also carries in his countenance an ineradicable sense of sorrow that he cannot comprehend'

Peter Pan never flew my way as a child. When I did catch up with him, it was in a production that did nothing to dispel the image of a winsome piece of nursery nonsense that had arisen in the meantime. But watching Matthew Warchus's new production in Leeds, I found myself squinting so as not to glimpse a wisp of flying-wire and willing myself not to surmise how the huge Chinese dragon-style "Clockodile" was being manipulated - aching, in fact, to be a child who sees not stage craft but a world.

But craft there is and it should be honoured: the flying directed by Ben Haynes, the illusions of Paul Kieve, the lighting of Hugh Vanstone and the sound of the Playhouse's resident sorcerer, Mic Pool, all contribute to the wonder of Rob Howell's overall design. At such moments when the huge nursery windows gape wider and Peter and the children fly out into what seems to be the galaxy itself, or when a giant outflow pipe becomes mobile and disappears into the distance like a departing train leaving Peter to his fate on Marooners' Rock, adult and child are united in happy amazement.

Yet Matthew Warchus has not only applied polish to Barrie's classic. Picking up something from the RSC's reworking in the Eighties, he has produced a version that is thought-provoking and at times unsettling. John Padden's excellent Peter is a spirited, careless boy, but he also carries in his countenance an ineradicable sense of sorrow that he cannot comprehend. His famous determination never to grow up gives him freedom, especially from the demands of modern office-going manhood, but it also excludes him from a circle of social affection. His relationship with Anne-Marie Duff, who brings a Tilda Swinton-esque quizzicality to the role of Wendy, is almost touching in the way its logical development towards sexuality is balked by his fear of maturity, thwarting her desire to be a lover before she is catapulted into motherhood.

The longings of the Lost Boys for home and the tones of foreboding in Ian McDiarmid's narration - emanating from a discomfitingly Olympian slant above us - form a sense of fascinated unease. Even David Bamber's Captain Hook, though dastardly enough, has a certain vulnerability about him and reveals a curious, self-destructive sensuality when he says, lingeringly, that the Croc is "licking his lips for the rest of me".

But Warchus does not labour the psychologising, even though a subdued battle within Barrie's text between a will to think aloud about storytelling, believing and childhood and a licence to let the fantasy run is so evident. Relish in the work's extravagance suffuses the whole show and animates such fine support as Mark Hadfield's Smee, Sean Wilton's parsonical pirate, and the chipper version of Mick Hucknall that is Simon Meacock's Slightly. If you don't have a child to take, don't wait around - just go.

n To 3 February. Booking: 0113- 244 2111

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