pan set

A huge section of stage lifted on Michael Pavelka's wonderful set with the Lost Children's hideout below and the searching pirates above, Pictures: Johan Persson

Peter Pan Reimagined

Birmingham Rep


What a Christmas treat Birmingham Rep have served up with this gritty, glorious, fun and fabulous reworking of J M Barrie’s tale of the boy who never grows up.

The Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael have been transformed from Barrie’s world of a Victorian comfortable middle class life in Kensington Gardens into three siblings in foster care in a graffiti-scrawled bleak, concrete collection of flats on a sink estate – Neverland Court.

A gang of bored kids with nothing to do but annoy neighbours. being lectured by a police community support officer and a hang ‘em and flog ‘em caretaker does not make for an auspicious start and you can almost feel the sighs and moans of those expecting the classic fairy tale, the silent thoughts of “oh no - what have we come to? - How long does it last?”

But hold your horses, or I suppose it should be reindeer at this time of year, this is setting the scene for what is a modern fairy tale, a Peter Pan for the 21st century, init, and believe me it is mint and sick – and I have no idea what that means but apparently it is.

hook pan

Hook (Nia Gwynne) and Peter (Lawrence Walker)

My wife was not sure she heard everything right so my grandson, aged eight, told her: “That’s because they are using modern words, Nana.” Ah, what it is to be seen as some sort of decrepit Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

Barrie’s timeless tale remains unchanged, it is just the way it is told has moved on a century or so, Wendy is no longer the sensible, older sister, she is a bolshie Scot, played by Cora Tsang making her professional stage debut, although you would need to read the programme to know it. She is excellent.

Fostered and regularly thrown out she is the reality of the whole thing while Peter Pan is the fantasy. Peter is played by Lawrence Walker, who, incidentally, was in Wendy and Peter Pan at the RSC back in December 2015. He has all the boyish charm and innocence required of a baby who grew up in Neverland with no mother or father - and no knowledge of the real world. A night snogging with him, girls, and you would never want for fridge magnets for the rest of your life.

Wendy’s brothers are the studious John, played . . . studiously well . . . by Kascion Franklin, and the 100mph, have a go at anything Michael, played with youthful enthusiasm by Mollie Lambert. I am sure youngsters are draining the energy of us oldies as we sleep, because she has bags of it.

Fostering the Darling trio is Jess played by the RSC’s Nia Gwynne. Her Jess is a kindly, harassed, working mum, fostering three difficult, or at least one and a half of them are, children.

Flying high, Mirabelle Gremaud as Tinks or *~>\}!^$ as she would say

But then she pops up as Hook, the pirate with the gold hook, a fear of crocodiles, a hatred of Peter Pan and a generally bad sort. It is a deliciously evil portrayal so far over the top as to make her fun. She might have been the arch baddy, but we loved her all the same.

Her right hand man, although left would have been better has she already had a right, was Smee, played by Charlotte Mirriam, a lovely mix of stupidity and genius, who also bore a remarkable resemblance to Jess’s friend Esmee – Smee . . . Esmee – a clue there perhaps except the real giveaway was that both characters were gastronomically expressive . . . lots of bum coughs. You can never go wrong with kids and fart jokes.

The gang of bored kids are transformed into a pirate horde and the lost boys which in these days of diversity, also included lost girls, with caretaker, Stavros Demetraki, obviously, becoming a leading light in the hang, drawing and quartering wing of the pirate party.

There is a lovely bit as lost boy Slightly, played with touching innocence by John Carter, explains how he got his name, and then there is John questioning the likelihood of pirates in Bordesley Green . . . hehin those lace curtains, my son . . . .

Meanwhile flitting around in silver hot pants we have the multi-talented Mirabelle Gremaud who plays the harp, quite beautifully, and sings Eden Ahbez haunting 1947 song, Nature Boy, in two quieter and moving moments. She talked in all those symbols you can’t use in passwords, but you knew exactly what she said when it mattered – and it was all visible on the surtitles below the stage, a nice touch for the hearing impaired.

Down below it is hardly a distraction and a lifeline for those who need it.

But back to Tinks, who as we all know dies to save Peter and, true to tradition, we all clapped furiously to bring her back to life. See, we still believe in fairies.

In essence both pirates and lost boys and girls, a brilliant ensemble, want Wendy as a mum, with the pirates having the added ambition that they want to kill off all the lost boys and girls by making them walk the plank to be eaten by the weirdo mermaids – Hans Christian Andersen’s lot they are not.

Cap’n Jess Hook also wants Pan dead, but that is more a personal thing and it doesn’t end well (spoiler alert) in a demise which involves a rather large crocodile which looks remarkably like the front of a Mercedes Benz, complete with three pointed star badge, so I suppose it must have been an old crock – boom! boom!

Oh, come on, you will get worse in your Christmas crackers.

peter wendy

Peter (Lawrence Walker) and Wendy (Cora Tsang)

It is a lovely script from director Liam Steel and his co-adapter Georgia Christou. They have kept the essence of the story, one of youthful innocence, of simple goodies and baddies, yet overlaid on it is a back story of kids fostered, of kids who feel abandoned - and often are. They are longing for an escape from a life with no future, one of empty drudgery, looking for an escape into a world of excitement and adventure.

The thread holding reality and fantasy together from opening scene to closing moment is a missing necklace, worth nothing, but priceless to Jess and Wendy, meaning much more than a cheap piece of costume jewellery from the market. It is a catalyst, a symbol  of hope, of a future, the sanctuary of a home for the three fostered Darling kids – it brings a tear to the hardest of hearts.

Michael Pavelka’s set is a masterpiece of design with a kitchen that becomes Neverland, walls that open, stage sections that rise and fall, and all within the three balconyed walls of a 1960’s concrete jungle while Laura Jane Stanfield’s costumes add to both the real world and Neverland illusions.

The music, composer Asaf Zohar, gives us ballads, rap, hip hop, stuff I don’t know the name of - something for everyone. And as for flying?

Well Liam Steel could have gone for fine wires that might not be seen from the back, as long as the light didn’t catch them, but most people would see them so instead why not make them visible? and, strangely, you soon ignore the wires and just see Peter and the Darlings, as well as Tinks, just . . . well, flying.

Steel, also cleverly gives Peter a shadow for every occasion – remember Wendy first finds him searching for his missing shadow. Well, he needs a long shadow for dusk, a short one for mid-day, and presumably one for every hour in between as well as one for shadow boxing . . . which gives us a whole crew of stage hands who are well . . . just shadows on stage – a clever touch.

Your eight-year-old grandson might have to explain a few of the words to you, init, but you will get the gist, and the added bonus of warm feeling of happiness.

It might not be a show about Christmas but it is a Christmas feast of entertainment with all the trimmings, you will be hard pushed to find a better family show this side of Neverland – which is second to the right, and straight on till morning if you decide to visit. You still might not fly after seeing it, but your spirits certainly will. To 19-01-10.

Roger Clarke


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