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Review: Peter Pan, at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Venue is transformed into enchanting Neverland in brilliant adaptation of a much-loved classic

31 May, 2018 — By Paul Cowling

Sam Angell in Peter Pan. Photo: Johan Persson

BIRDS flutter as their chirps carry across the gathering twilight of the Open Air Theatre.

This glorious amphitheatre is a fine setting at any time. When it deals in the mustard gas blindness of boys lost in battle and their unexpected infantile flight into lost boy Neverland, the theatre becomes absorbing and enchanting. There is no better place to blend Peter Pan and the truth of the First World War than here. It just wouldn’t work in a traditional theatre.

Bewildered troops branch out from behind the theatre’s tree surrounds towards the wooden plank stage of a field hospital or the corrugated trenches surrounding it. Here Jon Bausor’s clever set is high on improvisation: Hospital beds become poppy fields as war takes its toll, and then as nurse Wendy Darling (Cora Kirk) tends to bandaged lads, the beds soon become a Wendy house for her and the “soldier children” she and Peter Pan take under their wings.

Cora Kirk as Wendy with the Lost Boys. Photo Johan Persson

Sam Angell is convincing as the boy/man Pan with an ability to control his fast landing on stage from on high. Here Angell’s Peter just wants to protect his boys from blood and mud war, while also fending off his own nemesis: Captain Hook.

Dennis Herdman is perhaps the pick of the night as the completely camp, comical and unthreatening Hook.

The set’s ingenuity extends to brilliance, when the Cap’n-eating crocodile appears twice: first with a swishing, galvanised tail marching across the stage, and then stirring from under moving floorboards with plank jaws and sabre-like teeth.

Dennis Herdman and Caroline Deyga as Hook and Smee. Photo Johan Persson

Mention too of the troop of lost boys – all grown men of course, but with real abilities to act like children.

Pan’s fairy sidekick Tinkerbell is interestingly portrayed as a kind of angular bedside lamp, hand-held throughout by an “invisible” Elisa de Grey, who manages to throw her voice into a series of screeching whines.

The lack of subtlety also works well in Bausor’s use of pulleys and ropes to fly Pan through the air: there no need for hidden wires here. Instead we have a fine adaptation of a much-loved classic.

As a result, this is a brilliant piece of work, and everyone should see it.

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