Tag Archives: JM Barrie

Street Pete

PETER PAN Reimagined

The REP, Birmingham, Thursday 5th December, 2019

 

Director Liam Steel follows up last year’s whirlwind of a successful Wizard of Oz with this new version of the immortal JM Barrie classic.  Instead of Edwardian London, the action is updated and translocated to present-day Birmingham, a rundown block of flats.  Odd then that Steel should cast his Wendy as a Scottish lass, undermining the show’s much-touted local identity.  Don’t get me wrong: Cora Tsang is fine in the role.  This Wendy is a mardy young teenager, snarky with Jess, the latest in a long line of foster mums, in the show’s downbeat beginning.  All kitchen sink drama.  In fact, scenes that usually transpire in the children’s bedroom all happen in the kitchen, linking Wendy with domesticity, mothering, and care-giving, as though this might be her inescapable fate.

With Hook played by a woman (doubling as the foster mother) themes of motherhood and gender roles are brought to the fore.  The Lost Ones crave the discipline of structure that a mother would bring, while Wendy, rejecting it in her home life, plays along when in Neverland.  Speaking of Neverland, it’s a joyous place, bedecked with graffiti and urban deprivation – Wendy’s fantasy life is as bleak as her reality.  The setting robs Neverland of its storybook exotica and its sense of wonder.  There are some instances of technical creativity, with some rather splendid and scary mermaids and a beautiful bird made out of a detergent box but it’s all a bit too dark, I find.

The cast is great.  Lawrence Walker’s Peter Pan looks a bit grown-up but it’s the playing that gives him his boyish exuberance.  He has more Shadows than Cliff Richard, in a brilliant piece of staging.  Mollie Lambert is thoroughly credible as Wendy’s younger brother Michael.  And there is some great energy from the gang of Lost Ones, and from the Pirates (who look like refugees from a Mad Max film).  Mirabelle Gremaud genuinely bends over backwards to perform as Tink, who has her own fairy language, which is funny, and a strong singing voice, which is lovely, but she looks like a character from a 1970s sci-fi programme.   Charlotte Merriam’s thick Brummie sidekick Smee is a marked contrast to the mighty Nia Gwynne, resplendent as Captain Hook.  Gwynne plays it old-school villain, high camp and delivering her lines with relish – many of which are lifted from Barrie.  Costume designer Laura Jane Stanfield has given her the best outfit, with a gilded hook and even a galleon for a hat.

There is a strange mix of childish innocence and naivety with the harder edge of the music; Peter doesn’t know what a kiss is but he can drop sick rhymes like a pro.  The assertive nature of the rapping and the hip-hop is slickly performed but doesn’t sit well with the kids’ yearning for Happy Families and Cinderella.

The script, by Liam Steel and Georgia Christou, has plenty of fun, and JM Barrie rises to the surface every now and then, and I want to enjoy it more than I do.  I suppose it comes down to Neverland and this end of Birmingham being essentially the same place that stops the show from taking off.

PETER PAN,

Off the hook! Nia Gwynne (Photo: Johan Persson)

 


The Admirable New Vic

THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Saturday 30th July, 2011

 

The New Vic’s triumphant Summer Rep season came to an end with the final performance of J M Barrie’s comedy of manners, a play that proves he could delight adults as effectively as he did children with Peter Pan (“did children” sounds wrong now that I look at it. Let me make it clear I’m not suggesting JM had any of MJ’s alleged tendencies – legal minefield this blogging lark, ain’t it?).

The play, first produced in 1901, is remarkably fresh and pertinent.  Its politics make for a piquant satire of today, now our backward-thinking leaders wish to return us to nineteenth century “values”.  Barrie “pooh-poohs” ( to use a phrase from the play) notions of Equality, an idea given lip-service by Lord Loam, and uses the device of stranding his characters on a desert island to demonstrate that a natural leader will inevitably emerge.  Ability and character define the leader, not privilege, wealth or circumstance of birth.  Crichton, a butler who could give Jeeves a run for his money, soon takes over.  He becomes a benevolent despot and everyone is happy to serve him.  The flighty young ladies become valued contributors.  The men apply themselves to the common good.  They all benefit from Crichton’s inventiveness – the island’s resources are put to clever and ecological use.

When, after two years, rescue comes, the old order is swiftly restored, and we feel the injustice of this more keenly than the characters.  Back in England, a cover-up in the form of a published account of their ordeal, marginalises Crichton and glorifies through falsehood the heroics of the upper class.  Perhaps most admirable about Crichton is his unwillingness to resume his former life.  The true nature of his “betters” has been revealed.  He hands in his notice and goes to run a pub on the Harrow Road, where he can again be master of all he surveys.   This move from servant to small businessman is in direct opposition to Lord Loam’s avowal to shed his liberal outlook and join the Tories.  Equality is off the agenda.   Crichton will work hard for success and wealth. Loam, nothing more than an amusing buffoon, seeks to cling to his position by reinforcing the status quo.

Can’t help longing for a Crichton to come along and unseat the self-serving millionaires we are lumbered with…

The company is a tight ensemble, having bonded over the past few months in the staging of four very diverse plays, clearly enjoyed themselves.  Director Theresa Heskins has gathered a fine bunch of character actors, among them the marvellous and indefatigable Michael Hugo and, blast from my TV viewing past, Paul “P C Penrose” Greenwood.  Really the entire cast deserves praise and applause until one’s elbows bleed.  So too does the design team, not least for the Act Three set: the communal hut on the desert island, and the octagonal table that transforms into a natural stone staircase.   The New Vic always makes the most of its in-the-round structure and I look forward to the new season as an impatient child waits for Christmas (when Michael Hugo will return to play the Mad Hatter).  Yippee!

P.S. Geek fact: The robot butler off of Red Dwarf was named Kryten because of this play.