The inspiration for Peter Pan came from J.M Barrie's wards - the Llewelyn Davies brothers. George, the eldest of the brothers, was killed near the beginning of the First World War, and so this production has cleverly set the action (that which is not in Never Land) in a war time hospital full of ill and injured soldiers. The stage is framed in the broken beams of the hospital, and the hospital beds lie on the stage, surrounded by bits of corrugated iron, gas lamps and wooden planks (which later become very important - keep your eye on them!)
The play opens with pairs of soldiers (in their uniforms) each singing different nursery rhymes, running about on the stage. The songs continue to appear at points during the course of the play, although they shift from care-free, silly children's games, to strict, regimented war songs with the drums beating in the background. It serves as a powerful reminder of how young and naïve the soldiers who fought on the front line and died in the trenches really were. The commemoration of the war's lost boys could come at no better time then now, as the centenary of the First World War draws to a close this year.
What I thought was incredibly clever was that, through the world of Never Land. this production showed us the child in every person, with small intricacies in each soldier being carried over into their respective part when they are Lost Boys or pirates. Nibbs wears the balaclava his soldier was given after he received no post, Curly repeats the same little phrase as he does when he is a soldier. Captain Hook, as a soldier, has lost his arm and finds the clock intensely annoying. As soldiers, John and Michael had been blinded, so when Peter arrives and Wendy tells them to open their eyes, they take off their bandages and are taken back to a world of care-free childhood.
The true magic of this play lies in the exquisite artistry of the stage design by Jon Bausor. As the action flies from the hospital to Neverland, the beds flip open to reveal grassy turfs with poppies. Later on, they pile up to create skull rock, or line up to become Wendy's house. The Lost Boys disappear into their underground home through manholes in the stage (which soldiers come out of). Mermaids have gas masks as faces, jelly fish are old umbrellas, and fish are pyjama trousers. The attention to detail was meticulous, and the set required just enough imagination on the audience's part. I loved how, when Peter, Wendy John and Michael fly to Neverland, the hospital windows fling open and an oasis of pink flowers is revealed, with a harp bang in the middle. It certainly was a feast for your eyes!
The energy of the cast throughout was very impressive and so engaging to watch. There were plenty of comedic moments in the play, with adults and children alike bursting into laughter. Back in the hospital, the Lost Boys, having been transferred back into soldiers, discussed what had happened to them after the war and it was truly heart breaking. In the final moments of the play, as a sort of tribute to the eldest of Barrie's wards (George Llewelyn Davies) John slowly walked off the stage and out of the theatre, joining the troops of soldiers who left in a long procession, arm in arm - the real lost boys.
Overall, this production of Peter Pan captured all of the excitement of being a child in a magical, fairy tale world, as well as adding a new dimension which grounded the story in reality (without making it at all unbearably serious). You absolutely must watch it, Book Your Tickets Now!
Whilst feasting your eyes on the remarkable set, not to mention the unbelievable flying, why not have a feast yourself? I highly recommend the banana loaf, and, of course, a trip to the Open Air Theatre is not complete without an interval hot chocolate and brownie! If you arrive early, you should definitely get yourself one of the legendary burgers from the brand-spanking new kitchen - The Grill!