The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre provides a magical setting for Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel’s creative revival of their 2015 production.
For those unfamiliar with the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, watching a play at the venue is something rather special; seeing the magic unfold on-stage as the sun sets on a warm evening really is a joy to behold. It’s a charming space with a unique atmosphere and is absolutely an experience worth trying at least once this summer.
This is a smart re-imagining of Peter Pan. Breathing new life into the over-familiar story, the play does not start as expected in the Darling family’s nursery; instead, it is bookended with scenes set in a field hospital during the first world war. A nurse – Wendy – is reading a copy of Peter Pan to a wounded soldier, and it is while she is narrating that the tale begins to unfold.
It’s a much subtler and smarter production than the pantomimes that have become the norm over the years. There are some intelligent early moments which we really rather liked; the general who had lost an arm and obsessed about the passing of time in the hospital transforms into Hook, with the missing hand who is haunted by the crocodile which has swallowed a clock; the No Man’s Land sign in the war-torn hospital has been altered to say Neverland; the young wounded soldiers morph into the youthful Lost Boys of the story. There are plenty of clever ideas here.
Yet it manages to retain the charm and excitement of the tale. On occasion it becomes a bit silly – the moment where Peter turns to the audience and asks whether we believe in fairies, while true to the original text, is still a bit cringe-worthy in the context of the more serious moments on display here – but for the most part we enjoyed the energy of this production.
The set and the technical elements impress, too. The puppetry work deserves a special mention – the underwater scene featuring mermaids and jellyfish really looks the part, while the final crocodile scene really is quite a spectacle. Tinker Bell, who had the potential to come across as rather irritating, is portrayed quite sweetly and handled excellently by the dexterous Elisa de Grey. The flying scenes work well, too; while no attempt is made to hide any of the wires – we can see explicitly how this works – there are still some wonderfully visceral moments.
The acting is pretty solid throughout. Of particular note, Sam Angell in the titular role captures the youthful innocence and mischief of Peter Pan perfectly; Cora Kirk impresses as the more mature Wendy; while Caroline Deyga provides plenty of comic relief in the role of Smee.
This rendition of Peter Pan is certainly rather different to any we’ve seen before. It’s an intelligent and imaginative re-telling of the classic tale, and while the blend of playful and poignant may jar for some, there’s still plenty here for all to enjoy.
Gay Times gives Peter Pan – ★★★★☆
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