Peter Pan at the Olivier Theatre - National Theatre - London
Review by Charlie (8) and Claire Paye
I loved Peter Pan, and I was delighted to have the excuse of taking Charlie so that I could see it. This production is designed as much, if not more, for the parents in the audience as the children. The recommended minimum age is 7, which I felt was about right. You could probably get away with taking younger children, but they may be scared by the fantastically menacing and yet tragic figure of Captain Hook, played by Anna Francolini, who lends an ominous tone to the character which is somewhat lost in the saccharine jollity of the original Disney film. Or they may not be scared. Charlie wasn’t. Charlie said he would recommend the show to some of his friends – he didn’t feel it would appeal to all – because it was ‘funny’. He was ‘a bit confused’ but could generally follow the story. He preferred the second half and the highlight for him was ‘all the flying’.
Whereas the seven year olds may not fully appreciate all the nuances of the performance, this would be the perfect show to take a teenager to. The visual and dramatic effects are entertaining and very impressive. The play works on many levels, with humour running throughout the play, lightening the Lord of the Flies atmosphere of Neverland, where children try to run the world as they think their mother would have done, but with a seam of childish nastiness throughout. And who can fail to appreciate the dancing mermaids with their 21st century message not to be taken in by men with flashing lights in stockings.
The play is extremely uplifting and affirming for mothers and girls in particular. In a world where no one remembers their mother, but has a vision of what mothers could be, Wendy is, in more than one sense, the star of the show. She delights the Lost Boys with her story-telling and games about tea time. Peter Pan holds girls in high esteem and won’t allow Wendy’s older brother John to insult her. In fact, the sibling rivalry was so well portrayed, it elicited a number of knowing laughs from Charlie, who suffers himself from having an older sister.
Having read about the male leads playing Tinkerbell and Nana, the nurse, I was concerned that children (and I) might be confused and put off. Not a bit of it. There were roars of laughter from the children in the audience at Nana and the Minion-like Tinkerbell, which were echoed by the adults. There were hearty laughs from the parents in the audience at the jokes aimed firmly at the educated middle classes about eating quinoa and being made to feel anxious. The script is superb, with children’s phrasing and language caught perfectly.
This is definitely a show worth seeing. It is fresh, fun, thought-provoking and a thoroughly topical re-working of the original tale. Paul Hilton and Madeleine Worrall were fantastic as Peter Pan and Wendy, but for me Captain Hook stole the show. She was so suitably threatening that I was almost relieved when the ticking crocodile emerged. However, in true 21st century style, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her and convinced that she had a tragic backstory which meant that sitting down with Peter Pan and a counsellor might have enabled them to talk the whole feud through and focus on their similarities rather than their differences. But being fed to a crocodile is much more dramatic.