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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Peter Pan
Kensington Garden Theatre Summer 2009; O2 Arena Winter 2009

Peter Pan is back where he belongs in Kensington Gardens and James Barrie will be delighted to learn that Ciaran Kelligren, a petulant, feral, Puckish Pan, looks absolutely nothing like Sir George Frampton's twee bronze statue, which he loathed. 'It doesn't show the Devil in Peter,' he said.

The public will be outraged to find that Barrie's name does not figure in the program's list of credits, an unforgivable error. Much of the original script has been rewritten, and often for the better, but the whole concept, the characters and incidents are still Barrie's.

The theatre is giant circus tent, which looks on the outside like an elegant Byzantine pavilion. Ben Harrison's production, designed by William Dudley, is spectacular. When Peter and the children fly to Never Land over London, sea and jungle, the sights they see below them are computer generated on a 360 degree cyclorama. The flying will be magical for children, parents, grandparents and all those who have never grown up.

A major innovation is that the audience is no longer asked to clap their hands if they believe in fairies. ('Believe in them!' boomed the revue comedienne Hermione Gingold at a performance in the 1940s. 'Half my friends are fairies!') The audience is asked to whisper, 'I believe in fairies'.

Very few people were willing to whisper on the night I went. The reason for this may have been because they wished Tinkerbell to remain dead. In this production she is not just a twinkling light but a stroppy punk fairy in a grubby tutu.

Wendy (Abby Ford) finds that she is expected to be mother not only to the Lost Boys but also to the pirates, who are about as menacing as the pirates in Penzance. There is a nice moment when the brood gets very noisy and she starts behaving like any mother would do.

The actors in their twenties playing the children are all amusingly child-like in their behaviour and Nana, the dog, is a delightful big furry puppet with puppeteer Mousen Nouri visibly on hand.

Jonathan Hyde is a camp Captain Hook who sucks his hook and gives Smee a kiss. ('Gross!' cried a little girl in the audience, loud enough for the whole tent to hear). Hook, educated at Eton and Balliol, laments that the only woman who has ever fancied him is a female crocodile.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens could very easily become as much an annual institution as A Midsummer Night's Dream is in Regent's Park.

Robert Tanitch

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Review - Peter Pan - Kensington Gardens 2009