Review: PETER PAN at the National Theatre, Olivier

Peter Pan at the National Theatre intrigued me so little that I initially didn’t intend on going to see it. Perhaps it’s the bitterness that still runs through my veins following last year, but I really felt that this show was going to be over-hyped children’s theatre that I was going to truly loathe, but I’m pleasantly surprised to say that I was completely wrong.

Yes, this production of Peter Pan is mainly marketed at children and after sitting in a Saturday matinee audience, it’s clear that they really enjoy it. But that isn’t to say that this show isn’t full of stuff for adults and avid thespians to enjoy as well. This show’s innovative use of set, storytelling and performance art make this show one of the most enjoyable and exciting plays I’ve seen the National Theatre ever put on, and even I’m surprised that I'm saying that.

The Lost Boys in Peter Pan

The story is exactly the same as the original story, apart from the fact that the show is topped and tailed with an older Wendy talking to her daughter about her time with Peter Pan, making the majority of the story a flashback (technically). I was concerned at first that this would make the piece stale as we all know the story well, but as soon as the actors were swinging around the room on wires, I was captivated: I called it “The Matilda Effect”. In the same way as the adult actors play children and mess about on those huge swings in the RSC’s Matilda: The Musical, the adult actors here blatantly attach themselves to wires – or as they call them, “fairy strings” – and soar around the stage and the auditorium a la Cirque de Soleil kind of style. I was really worried that the show was just going to be full of them doing that for the sake of a cheap spectacle, but they used it sparingly and it worked and kept me hooked (if you’ll pardon the pun).

The amazing Anna Francolini as Captain Hook in Bristol Old Vic's co-production of Peter Pan

In fact, everything about Michael Vale’s set design was pretty good. All the set and props used looked recycled in the same kind of way that the set of Cats looks recycled and it really added to the fact that The Lost Boys were front and centre in this incarnation of the story. Some of my favourite moments in regards to set, besides the flying actors, were part likes when the Lost Boys are climbing through the pipes into their den and when Hook’s ship comes up onto the stage out of the barrel revolve.

The cast in this production were great as well. I loved Madeleine Worrall as Wendy and it was incredible to see a fully-grown woman manage to play such a mature young girl with such conviction. I genuinely felt like I was watching a little Hermione Granger march around on that stage, until the end of the play when Wendy is a mother again and I realised that she is in fact being portrayed by a middle-aged woman. Anna Francolini was fantastic as well and while it was a shame that Sophie Thompson had to pull out of the show during its development process, Anna made a wonderful replacement and took on the role perfectly. It was nice to see Anna be reunited with co-stars Paul Hilton who plays Peter Pan and Lois Chimimba who plays Tiger Lily as well as all of them are fantastic. And while I didn’t like that show at all, I certainly thought they all made for a fantastic cast.

The Pirates - also played by the ensemble - in Peter Pan

Perhaps Peter Pan would’ve had even more charm had I seen it during the Christmas season, but I’m very happy to say that it still holds up in the middle of January. If you’re looking for a play with music that is fun, nostalgic and completely escapist, Peter Pan is your man.

Peter Pan continues at the National Theatre, Olivier through February 4th. You can buy tickets to the show online right here.

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