I never saw the original production of this adaptation of Peter Pan, although I’ve treasured its cast recording for years, and so I was very much looking forward to seeing CPYT perform it. Having seen many adaptations of this story (a lifelong personal favourite), I knew already that George Stiles and Anthony Drewe had created a charming score with some lovely melodies and lyrics both witty and touching. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that Willis Hall’s book, while retaining a fair amount of J M Barrie’s original dialogue, is still very much its own creation. Surprisingly, the adaptation has dispensed with two of the story’s most important elements: (1) we never get to see the crucial (and oft referred to) crocodile; and (2) one of the most ingenious and effective moments of audience participation in theatre history has been omitted. An emotionally-charged scene in the original (1904) production of the play, it has become an established dramatic moment: the 1954 Broadway musical version included it, as did the RSC and National Theatre productions, and it has nothing at all to do with pantomime – it drives the story, it makes a deeply affecting point, and it provides an unforgettable experience for an audience. I was surprised and saddened by its loss here.
Happily, CPYT’s production, directed by William Ross-Jones and Mike Mullen, still gave us very much to enjoy. Peter Pan is a story about childhood, and there was something very special and unique about seeing it performed by this ambitious and very winning young company. The tone was set beautifully in ‘There’s Something In The Air Tonight’, the show’s opening number, in which the company’s diction was particularly impressive – a credit to MD Nigel Finch, who, with his excellent (and unseen) Band, provided superb and sensitive support throughout. A treat to hear this score performed so beautifully. The design (not least the sound and lighting design) of the show was impressive, as was the excellent costuming, all credit again to this company for delivering a spectacular full-scale production. It was a pity that some of the more magical moments were dissipated somewhat by an all-too-visible (and inexplicably audible) flying rig.
This production boasted a huge cast, for the most part extremely well drilled, although the climactic moment of the first Act seemed to lose a little focus – no reflection at all on Jake Babey’s tall, rich-voiced Captain Hook, whose commanding performance (demonstrating a thorough awareness of the character and how to play him) was among the show’s chief delights. Amy Tilston as his sidekick, Smee, was every bit as delightful, and her timing and delivery demonstrated a fine comedienne in the making. The audience, not surprisingly, adored her. Adorable too was Mya Kalymkov, another young performer of remarkable maturity, whose Wendy was both charming and moving. Her duet with Peter, ‘One Big Adventure ‘, was superb. Among the many other impressive performances, Luci Harris shone as an elegant, warm Mrs Darling, while Jasmine Crabtree’s effectiveness as the Storyteller became particularly so in the show’s final scene. Blake Whent (John) and Annabelle Baker (Michael) gave captivating performances, and Noah Eades enjoyed some good blustering moments as Mr Darling.
Any production of Peter Pan will inevitably stand or fall by its central performance and in this instance, there were no worries whatever. Peter Lavery, who just three weeks ago was tearing up the stage of the Nuffield as the Chief Weasel in SOS’s Wind In The Willows, delivered here a completely contrasting character, demonstrating not least his versatility as a performer. His Peter Pan truly ran the gamut and his final scene in particular was beautifully acted. When he sang the show’s closing number, ‘There’s Always Tomorrow ‘, anyone who didn’t have a tear in their eye was made of sterner stuff than me! A young performer with a very remarkable talent.
Bookings are deservedly healthy for the show, which ends its run with 2 performances on Saturday. It’s worth seeing, having so much to recommend it – not least the joy of watching so much talent, and so much emerging talent, from this dynamic young company. The future is in safe hands.