Neverland at Lakeside Arts Nottingham has been developed by the same creative team that brought us the fabulously inventive family show A Christmas Carol in 2013. The new show this year is a brand new musical production for families inspired by J.M.Barrie’s timeless classic about a boy who never wants to become an adult. Ever.
The key words to describe Neverland are total magic and enchantment. If a show can keep a boisterous and excitable hundred plus collection of six year old school kids totally gripped and impressively quiet for fifty minutes non stop except for regular expulsions of “wow!” then it is a winner! Even before the show starts the fairy Tinkerbell is already making her ethereal presence known in the auditorium.
Neverland is written by composer and writer Julian Butler, designed by Helen Fownes-Davies, digitally designed by Barret Hodgson, lit by lighting maestro Richard Statham and is directed once again by Martin Berry.
The story (bringing us out of J.M Barrie’s time into the modern day) is set in a down at heel part of South London. Thirteen year old Wendy (Bethan Nash) is off on an ‘awfully big adventure’ to visit her father who has been maritally separated from Wendy’s mother. To her innocent self everyone is good as she passes through the night time suburbs and encounters a robbery en route. She sings of the young man running away after a robbery. In her version he returning goods not stealing them. Nash immediately impresses with her strong singing and already the kids are in the palm of her hand – and this reviewer is pretty impressed too. Right from the start this production is not skimping on the talent and the projected visuals of shop and housing frontages are already creating a favourable story telling impression. There is even better to come! You will soon believe a boy can fly!
As the story unfolds through dialogue and strong and witty song lyrics we encounter Wendy’s dad Mr Darling (Robin Simpson) who also plays Captain Hook. There is also an orphan called Peter Pan (Andrew Linnie). Peter is a lovable thief who has the ‘rarely questioned’ ability to enter a set of French windows on the second floor through the mode of flight not up a flight of stairs. Once a level of trust has been established Wendy and Peter hold hands and fly around the world to Neverland where they encounter the lost boys, pirates, mermaids and fairies and are swept up in the magic of Peter’s world. The modern world of digital transformations allows these fantastical events to unfold in front of our eager for magic eyes. The fact that the action is set in Wendy’s new bedroom the whole time gives the piece a dream-like quality with some amazing backdrops and effects.
Will Peter Pan once again beat the villainous Captain Hook? Will Wendy ever get back to her father who has taken on rather too much of the characteristics of Hook? Will Peter remain an orphan boy forever or will he decide to live as an adopted boy with a nice family? Will the Neverland home be demolished before time runs out for our heroes? Will the catchy songs ever leave your head after seeing this fabulous show? How will the mermaids help Peter and Wendy find their way home? Can the audience help Tinkerbell to live after drinking poison?
This emotionally overwhelmed reviewer’s first understanding of anything at all connected with theatre was through a colourfully painted depiction of a production of Peter Pan in an encyclopaedia that featured a few richly coloured pages amongst the black and white of general knowledge. This cross section of a back stage world from the 1950s featuring Nana the dog’s basket, Peter flying across the stage on a wire and Captain Hook in his piratical splendour has never left his head after nearly sixty years. He is confident that the live version of Neverland at Lakeside running until 31st December will impress lots of little ones and their families enough to enjoy a full lifetime of theatre going.