Wendy and Peter Pan is one of best Christmas shows I’ve seen, on a par with the National Theatre’s The Wind in the Willows many years ago.
There is a lot of action; the stage is bustling with complex blocking and a great deal of movement. There is plenty of spectacle, replete with flying (including a flying bed), a spectacular huge moving pirate ship and an amazingly intricate underground home for the Lost Boys. The play has the comfort of a traditional favourite story with some modern twists. The ensemble acting is excellent with some complex and beautifully played characters – Sam Swann as Peter Pan, Fiona Burton as Wendy, Rebecca Johnson as Mrs Darling and Andrew Woodall as Mr Darling, together with the vignettes of Arthur Kyeyune as Doc Giles and the Crocodile, Charlotte Mills as a delightfully buxom Tink and Gregory Gudgeon as Smee.
There are also touching moments. Jamie Wilkes’s Martin’s unrequited love for Wendy and Smee’s unconditional love for Captain Hook create some depth for characters who might otherwise be simple caricatures. But for me the best feature of the evening was the writing. It’s a real play, written by Ella Hickson, with things to say about grief, loss and mourning, about time, about the need for relationships and about differences between men and women.
Jonathan Munby’s direction is slick and skilful throughout. Terry King’s fights are exciting but not overdone, Michael Ashcroft’s movement is a delight to watch, particularly that of the Shadows, and the costumes, supervised by Sabine LeMaitre and presumably designed by Colin Richmond, are great – varied, characterful, full of variety of material, texture and colour, with added jokes. There is also a wonderful magical lighting trick as Tink moves from Lost Boy to Lost Boy. Designer Colin Richmond completely fulfils his aim to ‘design something fantastical’ while being ‘steeped in reality’.
This is the perfect Christmas show, giving abundant stimulus to the children, making them recognise aspects of their own world, letting them laugh at the ridiculous behaviour of adults, confronting them with serious ideas, political, social and metaphysical, and creating images for them to remember for a long time. It is also perfect for adults in its treatment of time, both expanded and contracted, in its touching exploration of a wide range of different kinds of relationships and in its treatment of the interface between the imagination and reality and the complex necessities of both remembering and forgetting. Tensions between home and the outside world are reflected in Mrs Darling’s response to the loss of her son and in her internal need to find fulfilment by employment; the position of women is further explored by means of the contrasting roles, responsibilities and responses of Wendy, Mrs Darling, Tiger Lily and Tink.
See it. I loved it. I hope you do, too.