Regular readers may have noticed my tendency to write about Peter Pan at any available opportunity (including here and here). So I hope you won’t take it as deliberate waywardness that the National Theatre of Scotland’s new Pan made me think of nothing so much as Kneehigh’s Cymbeline. The story’s (just about) there – but what on earth has happened to the words?
David Greig’s new version for the National Theatre of Scotland aims to repatriate J.M. Barrie’s classic tale to Edinburgh, strategically roughening the play’s edges in the process. So these Darling children are subjected to an educational viewing of a work-in-progress Forth Bridge, where a tribe of ragged boys swagger and [slider title=”swoop among the ironwork”]
A scene from the NTS production of Peter Pan. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
[/slider], while their engineer father fumes over each second wasted (tick tock, tick tock).
Laura Hopkins’ design splashes lurid, fantastical sunsets against the steely lattice of the unfinished bridge, effortlessly showing what Greig’s script laboriously strives to explain. Her wondrous transformation of this imposing silhouette makes Neverland an anarchic, shadowy subversion of stifling Victorian industriousness, where a lichen-covered stone beehive (with some distinctly magical properties) banishes all hankerings after tradition’s prim Wendy house.
The show also teems with traditional music, work-songs and sea-shanties and hauntingly sad lullabies, a melancholy sound-scape (arranged by Davey Anderson) in sombre contrast to the young cast’s apparently boundless energy. A gasp-inducing Tinker Bell (reincarnated as a bad-tempered ball of fire), Peter’s casual defiance of gravity and some viscerally exciting flying all make a pretty strong case for believing in fairies – though it sometimes seems that the author would prefer it if we didn’t.
Greig’s rewriting of Barrie’s insouciant prose seems determined to spell out what the older play left unspoken, but too often only manages to replace shimmering sentimentality with well-intentioned banality. His re-imagining of Wendy as a stroppy proto-feminist (shades of Pirates of the Caribbean) is occasionally wince-inducing, and making loveable Smee into a gauntly laconic fiddle-player leaves [slider title=”Cal MacAninch’s Hook”]
Cal MacAninch as Hook in the NTS production of Peter Pan. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
[/slider] (a tattooed, kilted hard-man, who definitely didn’t go to Eton) with nobody much to talk to.
Thank goodness Wendy’s last bedtime story survives more or less intact, along with Peter’s tragically un-punctual return to the nursery. The old play’s magic flickers intermittently, but grafting a social conscience onto Barrie’s blithely heartless hero apparently isn’t as easy as re-attaching lost shadows.