REVIEW: PETER PAN (Open Air Theatre) ★★★★★

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is restaging their Olivier-Award nominated Peter Pan until June 15 2018, making it easier than ever to head to the second star on the right and straight on till morning.

J.M. Barrie’s muses, the Llewelyn Davies brothers, were cruelly confronted with World War I. Suitably, with 2018 being the end of the this war’s Centenary Commemorations, the adaptation picks up this theme. A hospital station during the First World War sets the stage, as nurses scramble to take care of their wounded soldiers. The invalids find themselves entranced by the fantasy of ‘Peter Pan’, and not before too long Peter (Sam Angell) himself comes and whisks Nurse Wendy (Cora Kirk) away.

The stage morphs into the magical Neverland, and the transformation is complete: nurses and soldiers find themselves as Lost Boys, the Darlings, and a rowdy bunch of pirates, lead by Captain Hook (Dennis Herdman). Costumes and character designs are multitaskers, either revealing a colourful childish mix for the Lost Boys or a steampunk alternative for the Pirates (very cool: all their costumes were inspired by different countries and time periods). The beautiful stage is not limited by this being an Open Air production at all and manages to surprise over and over again. Beds become flower-beds, a house, or a rock in an ocean; windows open and reveal cherry blossom trees, and the stage in itself is ship, monster, underground house and War Front Line at once.

Sam Angell is wonderfully versatile as the fun-loving Peter, being charming but manipulative and a frustrating man-child all in one. All of the Lost Boys, even though grown men, manage to be adorable. Dennis Herdman provides great comic relief as Captain Hook. In the midst of all this chaos, Cora Kirk as absolutely magnetic and graceful Wendy, carrying us through the play.

The undertone of war prevails throughout the Neverland interlude and adds a melancholic, sad layer, making everything even more touching than it would already be. There isn’t a moment where the audience can forget that these play-fighting children are actually young men fighting at the Front. However, the pirates have a pantomime undercurrent which lends much needed light-heartedness.

While not being a musical, the performance features quite some songs which further enhance the atmosphere. All in all, ‘Peter Pan’ is a stunning show with fantastic actors, a clever take on the text, and magical set design. A must-watch for both children and grownups during these warm summer nights (while they last!).

Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo: Johan Persson


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