Peter Pan review – dark mischief and a wicked Tinkerbell steal the show

Troubadour White City theatre, London
Sally Cookson’s stunning production brims with naughtiness, bloodlust and menace – recalling JM Barrie’s original intentions for the story

Peter Pan opens Troubadour theatre’s sprawling new space, which has an audience capacity of 1,200 and with its exposed rigging and tiered seats resembles a stadium. In fact, Sally Cookson’s production has a big stadium feel to it with the drama of its lights, music and aerial performances that streak across the auditorium.

It takes a while to kick off in earnest. The first 30 minutes have a panto-like feel as the Darlings appear in pyjamas, parents tucking children in before they go off to dinner, the set simply a bed and a pair of ladders. The action truly begins when the Darling children fly away with Peter Pan, the bed rising up to create a stunning tableau that moves into the sky in slow motion.

Daisy Maywood (Wendy Darling) and John Pfumojena (Peter Pan) in Peter Pan by JM Barrie @ Troubadour Theatre,White City. A co-production with Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre. Directed by Sally Cookson. (Opening 27-07-19)
Hang in there … Daisy Maywood as Wendy Darling and John Pfumojena as Peter Pan. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Sparks fly over the next two and a half hours as we visit the lost boys in Neverland – a grungy adventure playground – along with Captain Hook and the rest. Cookson’s imagination is big and does not stint on the smallest detail. The live band and Aideen Malone’s lighting effects are equally dynamic and there are strong synergies among the polished ensemble cast. If there is a failing, it is that the production begins to luxuriate in its own effects and scale, meaning the pace lags with the ceaseless theatrical richness.

Watch the trailer for Peter Pan

This is undoubtedly a dark interpretation of JM Barrie’s story, with an uncontained bloodlust to characters such as Hook, played by Kelly Price. Killing is a recurring and graphic theme as the lost boys shoot down Wendy with an arrow, Hook kills a fellow pirate, John Darling is nearly drowned by a pack of mermaids and Hook obsesses over ending Peter’s life even as she is pursued by a killer crocodile. Like so many puppets in this show, the crocodile is exquisitely rendered by Toby Olié’s puppetry design and direction.

Peter himself is quick to banish the lost boys or kill himself. John Pfumojena is puckish if slightly generic in the part, but becomes more complex as he goes along: his yearning for a mother is drawn out particularly well. In his moments of menace we are reminded that Barrie conceived him in a draft of the 1904 play as a “demon boy (villain of story)” not the anodyne character of popular imagination.

Shiv Rabheru (Tinkerbell) in Peter Pan by JM Barrie @ Troubadour Theatre,White City. A co-production with Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre. Directed by Sally Cookson. (Opening 27-07-19)
Touch of evil … Shiv Rabheru as Tinkerbell. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The stand-out performance comes from Shiv Rabheru as Tinkerbell, who is radically reconceived as a male fairy wearing wings on a harness and speaking in fairy language that seems to resemble Italian. His comic malevolence is both delightful and shocking and never fails to entertain. Alongside Price’s superbly baroque Hook, naughtiness, dark mischief and evil steal this show and give it dangerous charisma.

• At Troubadour White City theatre, London, until 27 October.


Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp

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