First Night: Smile high club

JM Barrie's classic is a jolly pastiche of children's adventure yarns; it's also a poignant study of the privileges and penalties of emotional retardation. Either way, Paul Taylor writes, the National's is a triumphant production.

God knows how many air miles Peter Pan has clocked up over the years but he adds considerably more to his meter in his (by and large) glorious revival at the National of the celebrated Nunn/Caird adaptation of JM Barrie's classic play. This began life in the Eighties as a huge hit for the RSC, but the Olivier proves to be an even better venue for the piece.

Uniquely handy for soaring purposes, there's that awesome height above the stage. One's whole stomach lurches with envy when the truck-set of the Darling nursery swings round and, from an exterior view of the house, Peter and the children are seen floating out of the window (John in a desperate horizontal doggy-paddle). Down below, a model of Big Ben hurtles round and off at a tipsy tilt, like a drunken dowager struggling to maintain dignity in a high wind, and the arena stage is wrapped in a see-through cloudscape curtain. Levitating till they are out of sight, the Darling gang here give a whole new innocent meaning to the term "Mile High Club".

Peter Pan can be described as many things - from a spirited jokey pastiche of children's adventure yarns to an aching study of the privileges and penalties of emotional arrestedness, penned by a man whose first-hand experience of these things gave him, peculiarly, both more and less distance on them than the average person. But, on a purely practical level, Peter Pan is a big insurance risk. At Tuesday's first night, for example, hidden mattresses notwithstanding, one of the mermaids dislocated her shoulder while jumping into the heaving, glittery silk strips of the Never Land lagoon.

This put a good 10 minutes on to the interval: the responses of my two assistants (aged six and eight) furnished a perfect illustration of the play's perception of childhood. One second, it was all soulful-eyed, arm- clutching solicitude: "Do you think she's in pain, Daddy?"; the next, a serene switch to cold-blooded self-interest: "Well, thank goodness it wasn't Wendy or Peter!"

That's Barrie's hero all over, except that, with him, this fickle state is tragically eternal, the defiant reflex of a sense of maternal rejection, and he finds it frightfully difficult to admit to the emotional concern. The Nunn/ Caird version of the play brings on Barrie as the MC to his own creation and he's played here with a wonderful donnish avuncularity and pipe-puffing rum-cove repression by Alec McCowen.

At the close, this figure anticipates a future of endless repetitions of this story - the same un-ageing, cyclically amnesiac Peter returning for a succession of child-mother Wendys: "Thus it will go on, so long as children are young, and innocent... and heartless!"

Though it has the odd pool of mild disappointment (Ian McKellen - not what you'd call a palpable hiss as Captain Hook; Jenny Agutter just a touch too self-preoccupied as the troubled Mrs Darling), John Caird and Fiona Laird's production finds a beautiful balance between the fun of the thing and the undercurrents of confused anguish. Perfection in virtually every department, Daniel Evans's Peter is a Welsh enfant sauvage, with an avidly radiant grin, a cunningly manipulative glint in his eye and an incipient sexiness not belied by the impulsive body language of an eight-year-old.

You sense the tremendous soreness inside the crowing swagger, the desperate need of the once-bitten to fight shy of the emotions that Claudie Blakley's splendidly untwee Wendy begins to stir in him. And when, in the conclusion's weird replay of the start, Wendy's daughter wakes up to catch him sobbing, Evans superbly captures the rather creepy way children can de-brief themselves of sorrow in an instant and greedily clutch at the nearest consolation.

In a teaming, characterfully comic company, pride of place goes to Clive Rowe's roly-poly black Smee, miscast by fate as a pirate when clearly what he'd love to be doing is a nice domestic-science course.

At the end, Peter hovers ecstatically and unattainably over the assembled cast - a symbol of limitlessness and the severely limited, of that which is lost perhaps for the better. Children look up in open-mouthed delight, tinged now by distress in the more subtle amongst them, while adults fight a lump in the throat the size of one of Hook's cannonballs.

`Peter Pan': in rep at the RNT until March (booking: 0171-928 2252)

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

    £40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

    Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

    £22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

    Design Technology Teacher

    £22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

    Foundation Teacher

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

    Day In a Page

    Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

    Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

    Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities