Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | Peter Pan at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | Peter Pan at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | Peter Pan at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
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22 May REVIEW: Peter Pan at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Peter Pan 2The story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, is one absolutely synonymous with childhood, a name so embedded with meaning that it does for perpetual youth what Robin Hood does for wealth redistribution. Less familiar, though, is that of his creator, JM Barrie, a Scottish playwright and author born in 1860, who not only dreamt up and popularised this iconic character, but also sparked a stream of further bursts of magic in giving the rights to his greatest achievement to Great Ormond Street Hospital, who use the ongoing income from his legacy to care for some of the most profoundly unwell children in the world.

In mentioning the name Peter Pan, the image that springs to mind is almost certainly of a boy with elfin ears and a little green hat topped with a feather, a vision from the pen of Disney animator Milt Kahl, in creating the 1953 movie of the same name. But before Disney sunk it’s pastel-coloured claws into Peter and sexed up Tinker Bell, the flirtatious fairy now considered a symbol of the magic of Disney, had the catchphrase “you silly ass!” and worked as a tinker, a miniature metalworker mending household utensils. This pre-Disney vision of Peter Pan is embraced and celebrated by the Regents Park Open Air Theatre production, reverting to Barrie’s ideals, and in doing so creating a phenomenally exciting, and inventive piece of theatre.

When Peter Pan was but a theatrical character in an eponymous play, Barrie worked ceaselessly to update his play, time and time again, adamant that it should feel relevant to audiences, and change with the times. Yet for 65 years he’s been left in the ‘50s, until directors Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel decided to reinvoke Barrie’s approach, allowing the design team to radically reimagine the styling to somehow simultaneously send it back to the first world war and make it contemporary, in a production that seems to exist both in no particular moment in time, and in every particular moment in time. What could possibly be more Peter Pan than that?
Peter Pan 1This timelessness is conjured up almost exclusively through the magic of a first class design team. On Jon Bausor’s dynamic set, complex and detailed scenes are created from nothing, imagination empowered to run riot, unconstrained. It means that watching Peter Pan is a lot like seeing the world through a child’s eyes again, a perspective from which anything is possible, and a bed can be a bed, or a house, or a garden, or something else entirely.

The idea of an object becoming something else to suit a certain purpose continues through Rachael Canning’s puppetry, overlaying a definite dreamlike quality to the entire show, most notably with Tinker Bell who is back to her metalworking roots, made, seemingly, from a desk lamp, in a design that jumps between generations. Quirky and authentic, the icing on the metaphorical cake is Jon Morrell’s well-judged costumework, objects so beautiful they could form an exhibition in themselves. Touching every corner of the world and every century for inspiration, in the dressing of Captain Hook’s troupe of pirates it’s almost as though he took a car around the sets of Hollywood, and plucked out the most amazing warrior costumes he could find, from the Ancient Greeks to The Hunger Games via the Vikings.

Using time in such an exciting way also affords a poignant nod to the boys of the Llewelyn Davies family, boys for whom the character of Peter Pan was imagined, and who later inspired the play’s lost boys. With elegant musical scene changes we’re often reminded of the Great War, a war so instrumental for the family, made omnipresent through the gas-masked mermaids and the barrack-like set that remains in place for the duration.

By far and away the most magical Peter Pan this reviewer has ever seen, forget everything Disney ever did with it, and prepare to be surprised, and delighted, by Sheader and Steel’s mesmerising new interpretation, in one of the most enchanting venues London has to offer.

For tickets and information:
Venue: Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Dates: 15th May – 14th June 2015
Images: Tristram Kenton

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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