Arriving by night, a half moon shining bright above the crystal clear stream, small boys threatening to swing on the weeping willow branches, the scene was most definitely set for Peter Pan at the Watermill Theatre. I hope coach-loads of children will see it, because it is great fun, energetic, and has just the right amount of menace and pathos for a light-hearted Christmas show.
As a child, I felt rather ambivalent towards Peter Pan, who is not always an entirely likeable character - with his mercurial bossiness and crowing - although you can’t really not want to hang out with a boy who can fly. Perhaps most of my distaste for the story was to do with Wendy being soppy about Peter, and her interest in kissing and playing mother. Although maybe I’m just jealous - like Tinkerbell is of Wendy, and Wendy is of Tiger Lily in the original story - and want Peter all to myself! Anyway, this production fortunately made Wendy more of a swashbuckler, and rather than idealizing the role of mother, made it out to be a tough (indeed boring!) job, which a man could also take on. Tiger Lily, played with compelling mime and expressive eyes by Abiola Ogunbiyi also got a bit more of a say in her destiny in 2014.
The cast were all talented musicians - whipping out accordions, flutes, drums, ukuleles and great singing voices in almost every scene. My favourite songs were Captain Hook’s tango and the thigh-slapping sea-shanty on the pirate’s ship. Captain Hook’s violent soliloquies had six year old Pascal snuggling up close and at one point scuttling down beneath his seat. Fortunately he seemed to enjoy the frisson and was a model of audience participation throughout. His best bit was the funny Indians, though I’m not sure what he made of the unconventional mermaids, whose hairless chests intrigued his grandmother!
The psychological drama of Peter Pan is heart-rending, and at the risk of sentimentality, something that multiple versions of the story have played with over the years. Peter ran away because he didn’t want to grow up and fulfill his parent’s expectations, but when he tried to go back to his mother and father, he found they had already got another baby boy in his place. Is he a super-child, enjoying a selfish innocent carefree life of play as leader of the Lost Boys, or a wounded child compelled to make-believe all the time in a life devoid of parental love? Either way, it’s a story that doesn’t grow old.