Wendy and Peter Pan review – a blast of fairy dust

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Ella Hickson’s adaptation of JM Barrie’s story is a funny and heartbreaking coming-of-age tale for its swashbuckling heroine

Peter Pan is as much a concept as a character. JM Barrie’s boy who would not grow up stands for lost youth and the passing of time but, set against those abstract ideas, his personality is vague – as elusive as his shadow. Living for the moment, he is on a self-absorbed mission to seek excitement but, as a character, he is not yet fully formed. Nor, by definition, does he ever change.

In her superb adaptation of the book, first staged at the RSC in 2013, Ella Hickson suggests that behind the swashbuckling, the ticking crocodile and the kidnapping of Neverland, the real dramatic action lies not with Peter but with Wendy. On the cusp of adolescence, she is the one being pulled between the freedom of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood. On one hand, the naive sexual awakening as she flirts with Peter; on the other, the dark uncertainties of womanhood – creepily represented in Eleanor Rhode’s production by the turquoise ball gown she is given by Captain Hook, played by Gyuri Sarossy as an ageing baddie who fears Peter’s virile youth as much as his sword.

Isobel McArthur (Wendy) and Ziggy Heath (Peter) in Wendy and Peter Pan
Naive sexual awakening ... Isobel McArthur (Wendy) with Ziggy Heath (Peter Pan). Photograph: Mihaela Bodlovic

Performed with seriousness and fortitude by Isobel McArthur, this Wendy is also processing the death of her brother Tom, a genuine lost boy, whose early departure sets her parents at loggerheads and the children adrift. Consequently, her trip into Neverland is not just a knockabout adventure, but a way to reconcile her with the past and equip her for the future.

Thus, she wrestles with the demands of authority: “Why is it my job to fix everyone?” She campaigns for collective action with Sally Reid’s hilariously punkish Tink and Bonnie Baddoo’s go-getting Tiger Lily. And she maps out her identity as a sexual being, gloriously represented in a flying sequence with Ziggy Heath’s Peter high above our heads. All this, while figuring out where grief must end and happiness begin.

Staged on a set by Max Johns that trades the net curtains of the nursery for the billowing sails of a ship, it is both funny and heartbreaking, intelligent and tense. Warning: features actual fairy dust.

• At the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until 5 January.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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