Peter Pan: Derby Theatre – ‘a joyful and energetic performance’

Peter Pan has been taking audiences on a magical, whimsical, journey to Neverland this Christmas at Derby Theatre, in a performance of JM Barrie‘s play directed by Sarah Brigham.

Peter Pan at Derby Theatre 2018


It’s the first week of the New Year. The often mundane reality of adulthood weighs heavy as Christmas magic is stored away in lofts and cupboards,┬áresolutions anchor us as we return to work, heads down against grim weather, with the long stretch of January ahead of us. Magic can be hard to come by.

But Derby Theatre‘s production of Peter Pan (which has run over the festive period and ends today – 6 January 2018) has no time for such grown up concerns, it is bound for Neverland no matter what. Through a joyful and energetic performance the audience is pulled into the classic tale of the boy who never grew, and the adventures that await beyond the nursery window as Sarah Brigham directs J M Barrie‘s classic tale adapted by Mike Kenny.

With original music by Ivan Stott and an ensemble cast we are taken from the nursery on the top floor of the Darling’s house, across the night sky to Neverland, where the fairies and mermaids play and the chase is on between the rebellious and punky Losties, Captain Hook’s pirates and Tiger-Lily and her wolves. Jack Brett presides as Peter, a swaggering wild child version of Pan, climbing the set and petulant in his refusal to ever become a man while Wendy, played by Sally Ann Staunton, struggles to remain a child while being looked to by the lost children and Peter to fulfil the role of practical but loving mother. The former swings around the stage, always just out of grasp, but heroic despite his self-centred nature. Between them both flits a feisty Tinkerbell (Esme Sears), unwilling to lose Peter to Wendy and causing dark mischief as often as she sprinkles magic.

Many of the cast take on dual-roles – Mrs Darling (Elizabeth Eves) is also the wild warrior Tiger-Lily, while the harried and time-short Mr Darling (Neal Craig – who grew up in Derby and an associate artist of 1623 Theatre Company) becomes the melancholy but sinister Captain Hook, haunted and hunted by the clock-swallowing crocodile. It is a shining performance – bringing something of Blackadder’s Flashheart to the mannerisms of Hook, while also bringing out some of the darker mournful elements of the character.

The staging, as well as this switching of roles, helps to carry along the sense of child-like imagination and blurring of what is real; is it Peter telling a tale of the family-perfect Darlings, or do the Darlings discover the magical Pan. Just like the games of children the play sometimes takes big leaps to carry the plot along, not least when the tenacious Hook is disarmed in a swashbuckling and brilliant choreographed sword fight with Wendy and Peter only to immediately sacrifice himself to the passing crocodile. It feels like a sudden and too-easily accepted end for what had been a brilliant villain – recognisably the only adult in Neverland – but one which delights the audience.

The production, is perfectly imperfect in delighting audiences grown up or not, and reminding us all of the delight of play, of running together and hiding away. It nods to the darker elements of the Peter Pan tale while keeping it light-hearted energetic, and pulling us by the hand to show us the way to Neverland – second to the right, and straight on to morning…the only resolution needed burning brighter in our hearts; we will never grow up.

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Images by Robert Day.

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