The first theatre this reviewer ever saw wasn’t on a stage but as a colour plate in a children’s encyclopaedia in the mid 1960s. The book had several full page colour plates; the rest of the content being dull black and white imagery and text. The colour plate image that stood out, the absolute most, was a side view artist’s impression of a traditional production of Peter Pan. Peter was in mid flight with Wendy and her brothers Michael and John; Captain Hook was on the stage scowling away and Nana’s basket was shown in a wonderfully mysterious place called ‘the wings’. My family weren’t theatre goers but this image has been stuck in my head with a sense of great fondness ever since. It ignited a curiosity about the world of theatre. I would have been given the encyclopaedia aged nine around the time when my mother died. So the themes of Peter Pan continue to have a personal resonation – a child’s need for a mother figure – compensating by having an awfully big adventure in the world of play – and dreaming of flying to Neverland. Never fear, I know the way – it’s second star on the right and straight on ’til morning.
And so, Derby born and presently living on the outskirts of Neverland, I fly over to Derby Theatre to enjoy a live production of Peter Pan directed by Sarah Brigham and adapted by Mike Kenny with music and sound by Ivan Stott. With roguish Peter Pan (Jack Brett) one has to expect the unexpected. Instead of a twee Edwardian children’s nursery on the third floor as the opening set, we get a playground of sorts with Pan and the Losties protesting and singing about never growing up. As the show develops and Neil Irish’s sets take us to various imaginatively depicted locations we start to enjoy and understand Brigham and Kenny’s ingenious vision. Confusion becomes fusion and the audience all experience a great deal of heartfelt fun. Everything about this terrifically colourful and mind twisting production is multi-faceted and above all diverting and very playful. It also has important things to say about the value of family and retaining an affection for the inner child. Derby Theatre’s Peter Pan is perfect for a family festive treat.
Five of the main performers, Julian Capolei, Neil Craig, Elizabeth Eves, Ru Hamilton, Jack Quarton all play three roles and Esme Sears has two as Tinkerbell/Tinkerpirate. This leaves the principle roles of Peter Pan (Jack Brett) and Wendy (Sally Ann Staunton). All of the performers play live music and sing as part of the performance.
Brett and Staunton work theatrical magic together on stage especially Staunton in her believable depiction of a feisty young girl starting to grow up and have future expectations of Peter in something other than a playmate. As a puckish Peter Pan Brett charms the audience with his personal and physical attitudes and imbues the role with a lovable sense of bravado underpinned with a sadness in his own parental loss.
Considering that the actors are all adults playing children everything is done with unabashed sincerity and great joy and childlike abandon in their performing. The real children and teenagers in the Peter Pan Young Company add great energy to the piece and a poignant perspective at the end of the show. The little darlings.
Neal Craig is a family favourite as Captain Hook/Mr Darling and he swashes and buckles with his nemesis Peter Pan alongside modern girl Wendy whose character is more contemporary than some sweet Edwardian depiction. The emergence of the crocodile strikes terror into Hook’s heart and generates audience laughter and wonderment at how it appears.
Esme Sears is striking and outstanding as Tinkerbell the naughty duplicitous fairy. Speaking of fairies please please please don’t say you don’t believe in them or they drop down dead on stage!
So as one of the fab Peter Pan songs, directed at adulthood, goes “What you do looks pretty boring, Sweeping carpets, choosing flooring, Putting your feet up with a nice cuppa tea, Doesn’t sound much fun to me…” If this resonates then get yourselves and your family off to Peter Pan at Derby Theatre and have yourselves a fantastic night of family fun. You might even get to see some mermaids and actors flying. You just have to believe with all your heart and mind.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe
If you enjoy the show and want to help others less fortunate attend then Derby Theatre say “Our Plus One scheme can make moments like this happen with your help. Plus One provides free opportunities for young people in care, care leavers and their families to see shows and engage with the arts in Derby. Please consider making a donation when you come to see Peter Pan or online: https://www.derbytheatre.co.uk/plus-one”