The Darling household is a place of joy, consisting of the three children, Wendy, John, and Michael; the practical and sometimes stern father, Mr. Darling; the loving mother, Mrs. Darling; and the children’s nurse, a dog named Nana. But sneaking into the children’s bedroom at night to listen to Mrs. Darling’s bedtime stories is Peter Pan. One night, Nana and Mrs. Darling see him and try to stop him, but are only able to catch his shadow as he flies out the window. So they roll it up and put it in a drawer. Peter, of course, wants his shadow, and returns later after Mr. and Mrs. Darling have left for a dinner party. He brings with him his not-very-polite fairy, Tinker Bell. However, when he finds his shadow, he can’t make it stick to him and wakes Wendy as he begins to cry.
Peter is entranced by Wendy and tells her that he had run away the day he was born because he heard his parents talking about all the things he would do when he was a man, and he went to live with the fairies so that he would never have to grow up. Now he lives in Neverland with the lost boys, children who fell out of their perambulators and were never found again.Wendy sews Peter’s shadow back to him, and then Peter convinces Wendy and her brothers, by teaching them how to fly, to return to Neverland with him and Tinker Bell. So off they fly, over the rooftops of London to Neverland, where the lost boys share the island with the mean pirates, led by Captain Hook, and a tribe of Indians led by their chief and princess, Tiger Lily. It was Hook’s greatest desire to capture Peter Pan and his friends because it was Peter who had cut off Hook’s hand and fed it to a crocodile. The crocodile had so liked the taste of the hand that he followed Hook everywhere, waiting for the rest of him. The crocodile had, unhappily, also swallowed a clock, and its ticking warned Hook of any approach.To this magical land Wendy and her brothers fly with Peter Pan. The lost boys, seeing Wendy and spurred on by a jealous Tinker Bell, think her a giant bird and shoot her with a bow and arrow. Peter arrives immediately and sees that Wendy is only stunned, and, after banishing Tinker Bell for a week, he tells the others that he has brought Wendy to them. They quickly build her a house and ask her to be their mother.
The next day, Peter takes Wendy to Marooner’s Rock to see the mermaids. While there, the pirates bring in Tiger Lily, who they have captured and bound and are leaving on the rock to drown at high tide. Peter saves her, and she and the rest of the Indians become their friends and guardians. Eventually, the children begin to worry about their parents and to feel the pangs of homesickness; and they decide it is time to return to their warm beds in London. The lost boys decide to go with them, but Peter will not hear of going if he will have to grow up. Hook and the pirates, however, foil their plans and capture all the children and take them to their ship. Only Peter, with Tinker Bell’s help, avoids capture.
The pirates are about to have their captives walk the plank, when Peter arrives and saves them. In the final fight with Hook, Peter forces the pirate captain to the edge of the ship where he hears the ticking of the crocodile and, unnerved, falls into its waiting jaws.The three children then return home, along with the lost boys, who the Darlings adopt. Peter stays in Neverland, coming to visit Wendy on occasion, but she soon turns into an adult and mostly forgets Peter. However, she has a daughter, Jane, who dreams of pirates, Indians, and magical places far away . .
OK, lets start with some facts. Fact 1: Peter Pan is a very long, wordy play adapted from a very long, wordy book. Both are very much a piece of their time, and are generally thought of as ideal fare for children – by adults, rather than the children themselves. Children are therefore dragged to the play by their parents or grandparents on the slightly suspect basis that it will be “good for them” to be exposed to classic English Literature of the type that only features in some golden Neverland childhood that didn’t really exist. The whole thing is therefore just an adult fantasy of the kind involving crumpets toasted for Nursery Tea before an open fire, Silver Cross prams, Winnie the Pooh and kindly servants straight out of Upstairs Downstairs. Peter Pan is actually quite a tedious play.
Fact 2: The general social demographic of 02 customers is not the kind of person who lives in a four-storey townhouse in one of the better parts of London. They do not generally take their young children to the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens to sail wooden boats, or afterwards serve supper on the Nursery floor in front of the fire, accompanied by another thrilling chapter from Mr. Barrie’s well-known book. The average O2 family (on yesterday’s evidence) is likely to consist of slatternly women in tracksuits trailing a large collection of children fathered by several different men, one of whom has coughed up the substantial amount of money he recently “earned” (by stealing hub caps) for tickets, and who would probably be happier dahn the boozer with his mates getting bladdered or sticking the DVD of Disney’s Peter Pan on to keep the kids quiet for an hour while he spliffs up with the new girlfriend. The children, one of whom has today been excluded from school for extortion and another who has some kind of unspecified “Attention Disorder Syndrome” are both high on the sugar contained in their Jumbo Bucket of Popcorn, have never seen any kind of theatrical performance before and are getting bored and twitchy.
Fact 3: put Facts 1 and 2 together and you have a recipe for disaster.
The evening didn’t get off to the greatest start when myself and Him Indoors, having negotiated our way round 2/3 of the circumference of the O2, (past an enormous array of naff-looking chain restaurants and the saddest, emptiest, most expensive “Christmas Fun Fair” on the entire planet - £4 a ride and they wonder why nobody is on the dodgems - staffed by a pack of sullen faced men who appear to be on day release from Belmarsh and for whom the addition of Santa hats is, frankly, doing nothing) to the “360theatre” have to walk most of the way back again to find the one public toilet in the O2. We then walk the remaining distance back to the entrance in order to find that the cashpoints are not working, and that getting money out involves trailing all the way back to the tube station. In the pouring rain. We walk all the way back to the “360theatre” to find that, having walked all that way under cover, getting to the “360theatre” now involves a 200 yard dash through the rain, the proprietors of which obviously can’t be arsed to pay for a covered walkway for their customers.
A glance at the programme (£5) reveals where the money for the covered walkway has gone. And honey, it ain’t on the cast. Crammed into the first couple of inches of a double page spread, tiny type reveals that there are 4 Lost Boys and 5 Pirates (most of whom seem to be understudying each other). The Pirates also constitute the on-stage band. White Man’s Diseases seem to have decimated the Indian Tribe down to TigerLily, its sole representative. There are 2 mermaids – Mermaid 1 is understudying TigerLily and Tinkerbell, and Mermaid 2 is understudying TigerLily, Tinkerbell and Mermaid 1. The credits for the production team takes the remaining 9/10 of the pages. The Wardrobe Mistress has a dozen Costume Assistants, 2 Deputies, a Wigs Mistress (and Deputy) and 2 Dressers. There are 4 Assistant Stage Managers, and a “Basketwork Co-ordinator” (who obviously provided the laundry hamper) and 83 musicians played the soundtrack. There are 3 Sound Engineers but the entire production is so badly miked that the moment any of the cast turn their back, their words disappear into thin air. As this is “in the round”, people turn their back quite often. The thin amplification has to contend with: rain on the roof, passing aircraft coming into land at City Airport, Latecomers admitted during the quiet bits, Latecomers in Very Loud Shoes, Latecomers Who Sit Down And Immediately Start Eating Popcorn and Latecomers In Loud Shoes Who Sit Down And Them Immediately Go Out Again And Then Come Back In With Two Glasses Of Wine. My blood pressure begins to inch towards Shouting At People Level
The first half 20 minutes of the play is very tedious and wordy, with lots of Edwardian Dialogue. Not much happens and the audience starts to get shifty. Peter Pan flies in, ragged shirt open to the waist and showing off his three Fairy Friends: Fairy Sixpack, Fairy Pectorals and Fairy Biceps. Fairy Tinkerbell, however, is a not the beam of light as Barrie envisaged, nor a twinkly little winged minx a la Disney, but a grubby Punkette wearing DMs, a dirty vest and a filthy tutu with a couple of Fairy Landing Lights sewn into it. Things perk up considerably during the flying sequence, when the entire roof turns into an enormous CGI screen on which the flight over London to Neverland is projected, and everyone ooohs and aaaahs and gets a crick in their neck and starts to feel slightly queasy after five minutes. However, Neverland seems to have shifted location since I last saw Peter Pan and is now not to be found “Second star to the left, and then straight on till morning”, but at the bottom of the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens. The Mermaid Lagoon is the Serpentine, and the Albert Memorial sticks up out of the sea. Ah, I get it – the whole thing is being presented as an extended fantasy sequence, with Neverland being made up of aspects of the Darling children’s daily life (for those Readers baffled by this, and who obviously weren’t listening at bedtime, The Little White Bird, the first book to feature Peter Pan, is set in Kensington Gardens). This leads to some interesting ideas; the Wendy House is built using a cot, a couple of blackboards, nursery blankets and a tennis racquet, the pirate’s rowing boat is an Edwardian bathtub and the Crocodile is made out of coathangers and clothes pegs and has footballs for eyes. But the rest of the show is almost incidental to the CGI which switches rapidly between pirate ship, coral reef, Lost Boy hideout, mermaid lagoon, exotic forest etc. Most of the audience spend so much time staring up at this that they start to tune out what is happening on stage. When the CGI isn’t on, they have to contend with lots of Wordy Edwardian Dialogue which tries hard to be funny but is just painful, a loathsome Tinkerbell about whom nobody really cares much and a general feeling that the cast are rapidly giving up the fight to maintain the audiences’ interest. In fact, about 15 minutes from the end, a tiny voice pipes up “I’ve had enough of this” and the whole auditorium erupts in the biggest laugh of the night. TigerLily (Sole Representative of the Indian Tribe) performs an acrobatic dance which is faintly indecent, ending up on her knees in front of an obviously embarrassed Peter and looking for all the world like she is about to go down on him. Mermaid 1 and Mermaid 2 perform a series of vague rope tricks rather than be hooked up to the flying system, which is a major opportunity missed as regards spectacle in the underwater scene. Wendy gets more and more irritating and the entire show maunders on and on and eventually (pun intended) peters out completely.
Of the performances, none really stands out. Ciaran Kellgren makes a good stab at the title role, battling against what is really quite an unsympathetic role when you look closely at it, although I spend most of time looking closely at his Fairy Pectorals. The role of Tinkerbell is badly, badly misjudged by the writers and the hideous, tatty costume lends no magic to the portrayal. Abby Ford was blonde and bland as Wendy (and it irritated both me and Him Indoors that she wore pajamas, which would have been considered indecent for an almost pubescent girl of the period). Neither is she old enough or tall enough to convincingly play the older sister of Michael and John Darling. Jonathan Hyde seemed too weighted down by his dialogue to give Captain Hook anything like the necessary evil swaggering bravura, and his dark, rather tatty costume meant that he failed to dominate the stage visually. Captain Hook should be a panto villan in a bright red and gold frock-coat and an enormous feathered tricorn hat, not a slinky black and silver dressing gown affair. Note for the writer: Captain Hook’s first name is “James”, not “Jas” (although this is invariably how the name was signed during the period, rather like “Thomas” always being rendered at “Thos”. Someone didn’t do their homework properly).
Later, the autopsy report from Great Ormond Street Hospital reads “Cause of Show’s Death – Complete Lack of Heart”.
Look out for the coathanger as they fly past St. Paul's Cathedral! Of course, this is shot from the actor's perspective, not the audience's, so it doesn't look quite like this for them!
What the critics thought of the original run in Kensington Gardens earlier this year: