|Josh Kirk as Peter Pan|
Review by John Lombard
Captain Hook is a cautionary tale: boys who don't grow up become vain, cowardly, selfish, and ridiculous. It is easy to imagine the dashing but wild Peter Pan one day slipping on the captain's coat to become the leader of his own ravenous band of cutthroats - only to finish up as spoiled and senile as his old nemesis. Boys who don't grow up do so at their own risk.
The story of Peter Pan is equally a fantasy of endless playtime and a sermon on the virtues of motherhood. While the lost boys of Neverland can do whatever they wish, the one thing they are all really hungry for is a mother to set strict boundaries on bedtime and to protect them from everyday dangers like eating too much cake. Neverland has pirates, mermaids, tribes, and faeries, but the message of the play is that ultimately the most satisfying life is to pack away these toys and raise a family.
This is where the play feels dated: in a world where actually owning a house can feel as absurd a fantasy as anything in Neverland, the cosy lifestyle of the Darling family isn't something you can afford just by skimping on crushed avocado. Mr Darling's greatest trial in life is getting his necktie right and the worst thing that can said for growing up is that you might have to put the dog outside sometimes.
Ickle Pickle's very young cast are boisterous and engaging, especially the rag-tag Lost Boys. Anita Davenport's direction is very focused on detail and on sight gags (when Hook is in danger the pirates form an Asterix-style turtle formation around him with a tiny umbrella peaking through the top) although the group scenes can be chaotic and over-crowded. The choreography is simple but well-pitched for the young performers, with the tribal war dance a particular highlight.
Josh Kirk is appropriately nimble as Peter Pan, more swashbuckling than puckish, with a restraint that marks his potential maturity. Emily Pogson is given less to work with as Wendy, pushed by the script into playing house with every inhabitant of Neverland, but providing the right childish curiosity. Patrick Galen-Mules is also very strong as kind-hearted but dopey pirate Smee.
Inevitably Greg Sollis stole the show as Captain Hook, bringing tremendous energy and commitment to being completely ridiculous. On opening night he was subjected to every musical theatre performer's nightmare when the music gave out during a particularly giddy solo. Undaunted, Sollis persevered and the thunderous applause from the audience was well-deserved.
Peter Pan is community theatre in the best sense of the word, giving young performers an opportunity to participate in theatre - but also a show that their family and friends will legitimately enjoy. The humble scale of the production is most obvious in some wobbly props (at least one hat fell off, Hook's hook was noticeably tacky, and Pan's shadow spectacularly underwhelming). Peter Pan has most to offer children, who will be transported by the play's imagination and the cast's enthusiasm.