PETER PAN – THE MUSICAL

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Lyric Theatre, Belfast

29 November to 4 January 2020

Book, music & lyrics: Paul Boyd

Every which way you look at it, Paul Boyd’s new musical adaptation of Peter Pan is a thing of beauty.  It contrives to hold firmly onto young imaginations while its high production values leave adult audience members glowing with warm, lasting memories.

From first sight, this carefully structured piece keeps faith with both JM Barrie’s story of troubled childhood and Mabel Lucie Attwell’s famously charming illustrations for the book’s first edition.

The respective members of the design team have pulled out all the stops in creating a dazzling and deftly coordinated array of staging effects. They have their work cut out for Barrie’s complex tale of family, friendship and adventure moves between worlds, some primly proper, some risky and primitive.  Each in turn is captured by Gillian Lennox and Erin Charteris’s multi-layered costumes, Conleth White’s lighting and Stuart Marshall’s sets, which come straight out of a treasury of children’s stories.

In a pretty nursery, sheltered by a starry sky, a sparky young girl called Wendy (Rhiannon Chesterman) is reading an exciting tale of pirates and fairies to her younger brothers Michael (Rea Campbell-Hill) and John (Christopher Finn). To their dismay, the last chapter is missing. The unannounced arrival of Michael Mahony’s troubled, bad boy Peter plunges them into an awfully big and perilous adventure in the strange surroundings of Neverland. It is that which constitutes the elusive final episode.

Boyd’s music and lyrics are spot-on in capturing the atmosphere of the children’s safe, middle class home, the vast darkness into which they fly with Peter, the lawless tribal lands inhabited by Tiger Lily, Great Big Little Panther and the Lost Boys, and the edge of darkness where Captain Hook and her  – yes, her – swashbuckling pirates rule the roost.

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The haunting final song, I’ll Be There, links Wendy’s rite of passage into adulthood with her mother Mrs. Darling’s (Colette Lennon Dougal) yearning for her missing children. It pins down the cherished parental devotion which has, for so long, been missing from the lives of poor, confused Peter and others like him.

A young group of local children forms the ensemble of motherless boys and native people, blending seamlessly with the top-notch professional cast of singer/actors, who unanimously contribute excellent individual performances.

In keeping with Barrie’s early intentions, Allison Harding is an exotic and threatening Captain Jess Hook, a neat double act with her early incarnation as the ferocious Nanny Cookson.  Similarly, the irrepressible Christina Nelson, moves from warm-hearted kitchen maid Miss Liza into the dim-witted but well intentioned pirate Miss Smee.

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Amongst a myriad visual and vocal thrills, the highlight is the emergence of a trio of glittering, halo-haired mermaids.  Led with high camp operatic gorgeousness by Alan Richardson’s Queen Bah-Ree, they will prove to be Wendy’s saviours in her hour of need.

A shorter version of this review was first published in The Stage on 2 December 2019.

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