Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park, London – until 15 June 2018
This enchanting production is filled with enough magic and creativity to make the adults in the audience fully embrace the child within.
I have to begin this review with a confession: I have never really taken to the story of Peter Pan – it has always felt an overly sweet story that has never resonated with me properly – until now.
This glorious Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production, directed by Timothy Sheader and Liam Steele beautifully offers a fresh new perspective of the story by setting it during the First World War that allows the audience to see the similarities between the lost generation of men and boys killed during the conflict (particularly when some of them were under age) with clarity and poignancy.
But a lot of the joy from the production comes from the delightful set design by Jon Bausor which is immensely creative in the numerous ways in which it uses beds to transform into boats, houses and outdoor scenery, but still allows the audience to use their imagination to enter Neverland. The set is complemented with some great puppetry design by Rachel Canning that works well with the style of the set, including an impressive crocodile which really comes into its own in the final fight scene that provides plenty of gasps from the audience.
The use of music and songs used throughout the production also heightens the poignancy – particularly when it comes to the use of nursery rhymes such as ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’ to highlight the youth of the ‘Lost Boys’ and the lost generation during WWI that makes for a lovely comparison to suggest that boys were forced to become men reluctantly as the war started, losing their childhood in an awful and unexpected way.
But while throughout there is a sense of bittersweetness with the references to World War I, there is still plenty of fun to be had to delight young and older member of the audiences thanks to many of the irresistible performances from the cast. Dennis Herdman as Hook is delightfully villainous – flamboyant and melodramatic as he attempts to bring down Peter Pan, with his final encounter with the crocodile proving to be a highlight. Meanwhile, Caroline Deyga presents a childlike Smee that doesn’t fail to amuse as the character tries to keep up with Hook’s plans – a charming and fun performance.
Elsewhere, Sam Angell makes for a youthful and energetic Peter Pan, who clearly delights in his flying abilities, Cora Kirk is a very modern Wendy as her fights with some of the pirates prove and Elisa de Grey provides a feisty but endearing Tinker Bell.
Tinged with sadness, this production of Peter Pan is wonderfully poignant and magical. Has it changed my mind about the story? Yes completely. It is a beautiful way to spend a summer’s evening.