by Lynn on January 16, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on National Theatre at home.

Written by J.M Barrie

Devised by the company.

Directed by Sally Cookson

Set designed by Michael Vale

Costumes designed by Katie Sykes

Lighting designed by Aideen Malone

Music composed and conducted by Benji Boner

Sound designed by Dominic Bilkey

Movement director, Dan Canham

Aerial direction by Gwen Hales

Puppetry designed by Toby Olié

Professional counterweighters: Keiran Gonzalez

Maurycy Kowalski

Barnaby Wreyford

Cast: Saikat Ahamed

Marc Antolin

Lois Chimimba

Anna Francolini

Felix Hayes

Paul Hinton

John Pfumojena

Ekow Quartey

Madeleine Worrall

If ever there was a show that could lift us out of this pandemic malaise this production of Peter Pan is it.

NOTE: I first saw this production of J.B. Barrie’s Peter Pan in 2017 at the National Theatre in London, England. Then I saw it when it was showing on the big screen as part of National Theatre Live. I saw it a few days ago on a ‘smaller’ screen as part of National Theatre at home. It’s still glorious.

The Story. A bit of a refresher course other than Peter Pan was a boy who didn’t want to grow up. Peter Pan has lost his shadow. He was at a window and overheard Mrs. Darling tell stories to her children, Wendy, John and Michael. Mrs. Darling thinks she saw the face of a little boy at the window, so she closed the window on Peter and trapped his shadow inside. Peter comes back for it when Mr. and Mrs. Darling are out at a party and the dog Nana, who is the nanny, is tied up outside. Sensible Wendy sews the shadow back on to Peter. Peter charms the children and teaches them to fly and they go off on a big adventure to Neverland where they meet the Lost Boys. It’s not all idyllic in Neverland. Peter cut off the hand of Hook (a nasty piece of work, due to the loss of the hand??), and Peter fed said hand to a crocodile. Hook has been looking for Peter Pan ever since to get even. The crocodile has also been coming after the rest of Hook.

The Production. While J.M. Barrie wrote the play, the company in this case worked on the adaptation—it’s a co-production between the National Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic. There are some interesting changes in this version and production with lots of double and triple casting. Nana is played by a sassy-speaking Ekow Quartey who wears a white frilly hat, apron and bloomers. Quartey also doubles as Tootles, a sweet, meek Lost Boy.

Peter Pan is played by a loose-limbed, petulant, stubborn, charming Paul Hinton, but he’s serious about playing him. He’s not play-acting like a kid—it’s serious business.

Madeleine Worrall plays Wendy as very sensible and kind-hearted but is up for a flying adventure. Wendy is a serious, mature kid who clings to that sense of child-like wonder, but you know she is the ‘grown-up’ there.

Hook is a woman with lots and lots of sarcastic attitude and metal teeth.  She is played by the wonderful and scary Anna Francolini who also plays the most loving, kind-hearted Mrs. Darling. Tinker Bell is played by an impish Saikat Ahamed who wears white wings and a kind of shorts outfit and speaks in a cross between baby gibberish and Italian.

It’s directed by Sally Cookson who I think is a master of physical theatre, dazzling in her invention of realizing the whimsy of the play, but always respectful of the seriousness of not wanting to grow up. She uses movement and simple imagery to create the most magical world.

Michael Vale’s set has created the world of the Lost Boys etc. with playground stuff; ladders, junk, ropes, piping and blinking lights. The floor is splattered with multi-coloured blobs of paint. The crocodile is made of separate sections of corrugated metal with a long snout and two lights for eyes. The separate sections are held by characters who move in a balletic sequence creating the slow, steady lethal movement of the crocodile, whose arrival is announced by a ticking sound.

Gwen Hales’ aerial direction of the flying of the characters is equally magical in that the audience does the work of imagining. The intention is to show how it all works, from the crocodile to the flying and yet the result is that jaw dropping world of the ‘unbelievable.’ Each character who is lifted off the ground is attached by hooks and ‘fairy wire’ on the side of their costume. The hooks in turn are attached to wires and ropes that are also attached to another person who scurries up and down a ladder on either side of the stage.  If the person is on the top of the ladder and drops down, the character he/she is attached to will in turn fly up.  When the person on the ladder scampers up the rungs, the character attached to that person then lowers down. It’s the combination of these two bodies acting as counterweights that give the sense of flying. Because it’s all visible to the audience they are in on the trick.


There is a final bit of magic and faith that happens before our eyes. Wendy and her brothers come home from Neverland to their worried parents, bringing many of the Lost Boys with them. Wendy asks if the Lost Boys can stay. The Lost Boys stand in a line and are introduced quickly: Curly, Nibs, the twins, Tootles etc. Except that can’t be right. In Neverland the twins–Twin One and Twin Two–are always beside each other. But Twin Two is played by Felix Hayes who is over there as Mr. Darling standing with Mrs. Darling. We just take it on faith that when “The Twins’ are introduced that both of them are there and not just Twin One. It’s the magic of theatre. We take on faith what we are told to be true. I love that.

Whether one is in the theatre watching in person, or on the big screen or now on a smaller screen, this is a raucous show. Emotions are high. Everything is urgent. But it’s never one-noted. How does it work watching on a smaller (computer) screen? On the whole, I thought it worked really well. The acting is very broad but engaging. In a way you need the wide shot of a camera to capture all of the wild activity. Close-ups again are helpful in negotiating the various reactions of the characters. Occasionally the activity gets the better of the camera work and some things might get lost. The best advice is to look everywhere in the wide shot to get an idea of how it’s all done.

Comment. These are hard times with this lousy pandemic. Peter Pan is a joyous, magical, prickly show for fearless children and their accommodating parents.

Produced by the National Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.


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