The Theatreguide.London Review
Finborough and Charing Cross Theatres January-February 2014
A new musical by producer-director-author-composer-lyricist Phil Willmott has an inventive and evocative generating concept and attractive performances by a talented and hard-working young cast – just enough to give a sense of what might have been if everything else about it had been as good.
Almost from the beginning a century ago it was clear that the story of the Great War – something that the culture had inexplicably never really grasped before – was that it is the essence of war that young men die, an epiphany so powerful and essential that poets and other writers have felt the need to remind us of it ever since.
Phil Willmott's contribution is to discover a rich new metaphor for addressing this terrible truth, and his limitation is that he can't do very much with the discovery. Thinking of James M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Willmott realised that the dates were deeply ironic, and the Lost Boys who returned from Neverland with Wendy were exactly the right age to go off to war and be slaughtered a decade later.
The juxtaposition of these purest symbols of boyish innocence with the horrors of real war revitalises that cultural epiphany very movingly. But in a sense that all happens as soon as you see what Willmott is doing in this musical, and the working out of the plot and songs adds too little, while dissipating the shock effect of the metaphor.
Willmott imagines George Llewelyn Davies, one of the boys Barrie wrote Peter Pan for, as an officer in the trenches (which indeed he was), dreaming that he is Peter Pan returned to London to seek out his old companions.
Act One is largely romantic comedy as Peter takes a crash course in how to be a grown-up in order to woo Wendy, but runs afoul of a fallen but still jealous Tinker Bell and a resurrected Captain Hook. Act Two turns darker as Peter and the other Boys try to prove their manhood by going off to war, only to discover that real-life Big Adventures are no fun at all.
As Willmott acknowledges in a programme note, the touchstone for this musical is inevitably Wicked, another filigree around the edges of a classic. But where Wicked not only inventively bounces off The Wizard Of Oz but reflects back onto it, enriching the core myth, Lost Boy has very little to tell us about Peter Pan or to add to it beyond the one brilliant metaphor for the horror of the War.
The futures Willmott imagines for Barrie's characters are generally uninteresting (the Boys all office workers who binge drink on weekends), improbable (Tiger Lily as a Parisian showgirl), irrelevant (John as a Jungian psychologist) or just forced (Hook somehow still alive).
Only Michael, finding some remnant of childhood joy as a gay trapeze artist, and Tinker Bell, whose new form I won't give away, are given futures that resonate emotionally and symbolically with their original identities.
But of course a musical can survive a disappointing story if its songs are good. Willmott's are at best serviceable, his lyrics often clumsy (typically rhyming glass and chance) and too rarely with any poetic power – the only exceptions being Michael's celebration of flying and a song for Wendy contrasting the vivid colours of childhood with the grey of the battlefield.
Musically, Willmott displays his influences openly, with virtually every song bearing melodic or harmonic echoes of other composers. There's lots of Sondheim, inevitably, along with snatches of Les Miz and Rent, and nearly direct quotations from Marvin Hamlisch and Jerry Herman. When you're mentally footnoting every song as you hear it, it's difficult for them to have much emotional effect.
Steven Butler scowls uninterruptedly as Davies/Peter, making it very difficult to empathise with the character, while veteran Andrew C Wadsworth floats with seemingly effortless authority through the roles of Barrie, Mr. Darling and Captain Hook.
With many of the rest of the young cast in their third or fourth professional roles, Lost Boy provides an excellent showcase for their talent, versatility (Most double or triple roles) and high energy, and I would encourage casting agents to talent-spot among them.
Review - Lost Boy - Finborough and Charing Cross Theatres 2014
|Buy this title at AMAZON.COM or AMAZON.CO.UK|