It is 1908 and the Darling children are in their nursery on a wintery afternoon – outside the roofs are dusted with snow, inside the fire is lit, all is safe and cosy.Ella Hickson
Thus begins this year’s Christmas play at the Lyceum: an imaginative retelling of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. At first glance, the story is not much changed, but the audience will leave the theatre with a new and deepened understanding of the tale, and the boy, that never grow old.
What struck me most about this production was how well the actors embodied the mannerisms of children. Isobel McArthur’s Wendy is intrepid and authoritative, while Ziggy Heath’s Peter is every bit the playful, chaotic hero that children love so well. The utter mayhem of unsupervised horseplay comes across well in the Lost Boys’ den, and again later on in the final battle scene with Captain Hook (Gyuri Sarossy) and his men.
The imagination of children was clearly a key focus in Max Johns’ design, as the sets look and feel like the ultimate playground (all I wanted to do was climb on stage and join in the game of bubble ball!). My one disappointment was that the crocodile only featured once, its impressive jaws rearing out of the floor like a monster from the deep.
I particularly enjoyed the use of lighting and music to add atmosphere to the scenes, and give depth to the characters. Peter’s first appearance is heralded by shimmering silver light and a shred of harmonica; parties at the Lost Boys’ den are DJ-ed by the boys themselves, on banjo and cello. The first scene change is covered for by bright white house lights and confetti streaming from the ceiling, which enchants us while stagehands disassemble the stage.
Costumes are bright and well-suited to their characters, particularly the sassy and hot-headed Tinkerbell (Sally Reid). Her bold character was a clear favourite with both parents and children, stomping around the stage in her combat boots and glittery wings.
Indeed, all the characters were well-loved by the audience, as Hickson’s writing makes a concerted effort to give depth and backstory to every person we see on stage. We even empathise with Hook, whose hatred of Peter comes from his envy of Peter’s youth, and there wasn’t a person in the room who could resist the endearing Smee (Dorian Simpson), who wanted nothing but a quiet life in a cottage with a nice warm fire…
What truly stood out about this production was the alternative storyline. In Hickson’s tale, the Darlings used to number six, until their youngest son Tom (Keiran Gallacher) dies of illness. Wendy follows Peter and Tinkerbell to Neverland to try and find him, and along the way they learn important lessons about grief, bravery, and loyalty. There’s also some subliminal “let your children be who they want to be” messages thrown in, in the form of young Michael (Cristian Ortega) and his desire to be a mermaid.
At times, the writing takes almost too sombre a turn. The deaths of Captain Hook and Tiger Lily (Bonnie Baddoo) are quite shocking for a family show. It was further perturbing that neither death seems to affect the rest of the gang, especially that of Tiger Lily, with whom Wendy and Tinkerbell formed an empowering alliance. In a tale about the ways we deal with loss, it makes no sense to skim over these deaths without much of a second thought.
Still, it was an absolutely magical evening. It’s an exciting play, one that takes you by the hand and spins you off into an enchanting land where happiness can make you fly (seeing Wendy and Peter soar around the theatre was absolutely my favourite part). With wonderful characters, important lessons, and well-written and emotional material, this is a family play that can’t be missed!
PHOTOS: Mihaela Bodlovic