The National Theatre’s celebrated 2016 production of JM Barrie’s classic tale of the boy who never grew up was set to be a triumphant opening show for the newest theatre in White City, the cavernous Troubadour.
One of a pair of theatres from the company – the other is in Wembley – the theatre has two performance spaces, a roomy foyer and bar, and lots of loos. It is also a very large space to fill effectively for a three-month run, and so, sadly, Peter Pan departed last night after just a few weeks.
I saw it on its penultimate night. The story is on the surface a simple one, with bored children off on an adventure with mermaids, pirates, and a disparate group of “lost boys”.
More complex themes involve puberty, first love, mother-son fixation and sadism (cruelty to teddies), and these have been teased out in a production which I felt was more “junior Kneehigh” than “sentimental Disney”.
The flexible space allows both Peter and Wendy to fly over the audience’s heads, while on stage, a pair of hardworking crew make sure the on-stage acrobatics are handled safely.
The lighting, too, is effective, and the small band handle the music for the occasional song (notably from Captain Hook, this time doubled with the part of Mrs Darling to reinforce the “mother” theme).
Aspects that didn’t work so well: a very lengthy second half and a saggy introduction; an irritating Tinkerbell who almost made me loathe to clap in her big revival scene; and an underuse of the character of Tigerlily.
In the cast I particularly liked Daisy Maywood’s slowly maturing Wendy, Kelly Price’s metal-toothed Hook, Mark Kane’s affectionate Tootles (he also briefly appears as the Darlings’ faithful dog, Nana), and David Langham’s slimy Smee. Peter himself, in the person of John Pfumojena, has just the touch of arrogance, fake bravado, and little boy lost to make the story work.
Sally Cookson, who also directed the marvellous 2015 Jane Eyre which I saw at the National, pulls everything together including movement, fights and essential set pieces like the crocodile, but I felt the songs were lost in such a vast space and the lyrics were often indecipherable.
Peter Pan ran from 22 July to 1 September 2019 at the Troubadour White City. Photo credits by Steve Tanner.