If I could sum up the RSC production of Wendy and Peter Pan in one word, it would be: Ingenious.
Playwright, Ella Hickson uproots the classic JM Barrie tale and forms it into something deeper and more relevant, yet still remains true to the context of the time.
One defining feature in Hickson’s version is that we begin with four Darling children instead of three. Tom is the fourth child who passes away at the beginning of the play, thus shattering the Darling household as they know it. Therefore, when Peter Pan arrives and mentions the ‘Lost Boys’ in Neverland, Wendy immediately jumps to the conclusion that Tom must be one of them; providing the story with a much stronger emotional pull than the promise of pirates and mermaids (although this is still what sways John and Michael!).
Another very strong feature to Hickson’s version is that arguably, this isn’t Peter’s story at all, it is Wendy’s. In JM Barrie’s novel, Wendy is predominantly shoved into the ‘motherly’
role and thus into the restraints of patriarchy, as seen when she is put safely into her ‘Wendy house’ when she arrives in Neverland. However, Hickson turns her into a powerful force to be reckoned with as she scoffs at the childishness of Peter and the other boys and hatches a plan of her own to find Tom. This is mirrored by Mrs Darling’s story as she breaks out of the family home to fight for her independence amongst the Suffragette movement.
Mariah Gale plays Wendy with ease, as she not only reveals her childlike innocence, but her more opinionated, strong and practical side. Gale was one of my favourite performers as I felt that she brought a different side to Wendy; she made her a real, flawed human being rather than the prim and proper young girl Wendy is so often portrayed as.
I appreciated the way women were brought to the forefront of this narrative. I really liked the way Hickson joined the female characters together to save the Lost Boys on The Jolly Roger. With Tigerlily’s (Mimi NDiweni) strength and resilience, Tinkerbell’s sassiness and wit (Charlotte Mills) and Wendy’s passion and confidence, we have the perfect team and truly see the different aspects of their personalities. In this story we see the girls as heroes, which I think we need to see a lot more of in theatre.
Another character who stood out from the start was Adam Gillen as the Cabin Boy on Captain Hook’s ship. I recognised him from his previous roles in television series Benidorm and Fresh Meat which prove his worth as a talented comedy actor. With his brilliant one-liners and slap-stick approach, he seemed to be a firm favourite amongst both children and adults alike. Another actor who had the same comic effect was Douggie McMeekin who played the Lost Boy, Curly. His comic timing was on point and he delivered his lines effortlessly, making his character the most defined out of the Lost Boys.
Of course, we always like a baddie – Captain Hook played by Darrell D’Silva lived up to all our expectations with his domineering presence, snarky comments and a pinch of wit for good measure. He was followed throughout by the ever-present crocodile, played by Arthur Kyeyune who delivered the part exceptionally; gliding across the stage with a hungry look in his eyes (truly terrifying!).
Another interesting aspect was the purpose of the shadows; Peter has six of them. They
are used throughout to move the story along, attach and detach the actors’ harnesses and add a more physical-theatre feel to the production. I really liked the creative decision to include them in the play as they helped with both the practical and visual aspects.
The set was incredible – thanks to award-winning designer Colin Richmond. A lot of thought and effort had been put into both the design and construction. I was blown away when the Lost Boy’s underground den was revealed; the stage surface lifted, and underneath we see the Lost Boys playing and dancing in this very impressive wooden structure with scattered objects such as books, brooms, springs, a bath, a cooking pot, and a bed and chairs on varied levels. The boys hang off the structure and Tinkerbell lounges in her pink bed above. This set is the perfect encapsulation of childhood, as Richmond comments:
“Their space represents the ideal child’s bedroom – it’s full of discarded things that are somehow important because they’ve been given a different emphasis, like playing restaurants with make-believe food when you’re a child.”
I could go on all day about this show, but I think I should leave it here as I don’t want to spoil it too much for you!
However, I will end by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this imaginative revision of Peter and Wendy. It challenged the original story and successfully captured the feminist, comical and magical moments of the tale. I felt like I had been transported to the Neverland I had always wanted to experience. Very well done to the writer, cast and crew for such an innovative production of a classic story!
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