This Christmas, the National Theatre promises to take you – small kids and big – on a journey passed the second star to the right and straight on til morning. J. M. Barrie’s classic tale of the boy who never grew up has been reimagined for the stage, as we travel with Wendy, John and Michael to land of make-believe where pirates roam and mermaids swim.
Characteristically of the National, director Sally Cookson has indulged in a few contemporary flourishes. Peter’s iconic hat has been swapped for green Adidas trainers, props are created from recycled junk and the Lost Boys imagine meals of quinoa and avocado. But wonderfully, Cookson retains much of the original story.
Neverland hides behind a giant curtain, concealing the magical land for an impacting reveal. A circus playground awaits with urban details and embellishments for an abundance of nifty tricks and flicks from The Lost Boys. They double up as counterweights to allow Peter and Wendy to fly seamlessly, and although the magic is confidently revealed, it only enhances the awe of these talented acrobats. Note to self: get rid of the dust, it’s ‘fairy strings’ that are needed to fly.
As with any fairy-tale, designer Michael Vale asks use to delve into our imaginations, as he creatively constructs pirate ships and crocodiles out of a skip and scraps of metal. It’s a wondrous sight on stage that has you grinning with each scene as we fly through space, are aboard the Jolly Roger or in the boys’ hideout. The little mouths open on the children sat around me were a true testament to Vale’s brilliant work.
The wonderment doesn’t stop there – there’s the casting. Saikai Ahamed’s Tinkerbell has his (yes, his) own fairy language that induces heaps of giggles from the little’ens, also Ekow Quartey’s no-nonsense Nana the dog, is doused in Victorian frills. But best of all, Anna Francolini’s Hook is an absolute joy. She is malicious, malevolent and a little bit melancholy as the infamous buccaneer. Her wardrobe would be the envy of Helena Bonham Carter, with punkish heels and grinning gold teeth (ok, Helena might not want the gold teeth) but her performance is superbly villainous and deliciously devilish.
Peter, however, is a tad hipster and Paul Hilton brilliantly brings out the cocky, arrogant side to him. He has swagger and loses the boyish quality as Hilton reveals a man unable to let go of childhood. Equally Madeline Worrall as a charming Wendy, portrays more of a young lady than girl, mothering the Lost Boys. She’s unafraid to grow up and displays a blossoming maturity. They are both excellent leads with a playful energy, and as they soar through the air to The Carpenters’ ‘Close to You’, there’s a delightful warmth and touching chemistry.
There are probably a bizzilion Peter Pan’s on across the country this festive season but be sure to magic the National Theatre’s co-production with the Bristol Old Vic onto your list. Cookson has crafted a fantastical retelling that will make your heart soar and hands clap with all your might that you do believe in fairies. All adults must be accompanied by a child.
(Photo courtesy of Steve Tanner)