High flying hopes

peter pan

Cleared for take off: Aidan Smith (Nana), Marie Arnet (Wendy), Nicholas Sharratt (John), Iestyn Morris (Peter Pan), Rebecca Bottone (Michael). Picture: Clive Barda

Peter Pan

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

***

FOR more than 100 years the mischievous image of Peter Pan has endured as the lasting representation of the child’s imagination, inspiring the likes of Disney and filmmakers across the world to adapt and adopt the flying boy as their own.

The need to make the story one’s own seems to be the starting point for Lavinia Greenlaws’ libretto and adaption of the story. Promoted as a family opera there is little other than the oversize toys and on stage flying to keep the young ones entertained.

This is because there is a dark undercurrent of regret and malice running through the entire production and rather than the boys own swashbuckling Peter we are familiar with, the family seems to have suffered the abduction of their children by some dark force and in the end the parents carry the guilt of their leaving due to their neglect and lack of love.

It’s a far cry from the romantic and innocent version you may traditionally have known and this is further developed in Richard Ayres angular and sparse music, where there is little room for sentiment.

With nothing in the way of any recurring theme, other than a percussive clockwork phrase that signals the passing of time, the opera is a progressive series ofhook tense phrases that border on the experimental during the Lost boys fight sequences.

All of this complexity is displayed in the opening 10 minutes on Jason Southgate’s inventive set. The father, Mr Darling, is seen commuting to his white collar job oblivious to the birth of yet another child, a third, only to comically rubber stamp its arrival at the office.

Pirates on parade: Mark LeBrocq (Smee), Ashley Holland (Captain Hook), Aidan Smith (Starkey) and Joe Roche (Nibs)

Counter this to the mother, seemingly becoming increasingly paranoid for some reason against the backdrop of the suffragettes with some terrifying figure lurking outside. Is that the forgotten child Peter come back to haunt and terrorise his mother? This is all before a note has been sung and staged with a procession of inventive moving props and large scale vehicles whose arrival continue throughout the production.

Hilary Summers as the mother Mrs Darling cast a deep troubled tone to the atmosphere with the appearance of Peter one night at the window. With the resonant singing of Ashley Holland adding more patronly weight to the household, his otherwise serious demeanour was lightened somewhat whilst suffering a slight wardrobe malfunction in the moustache department during his role of the father, Mr Darling, and reappearance as the evil captain hook.

Wendy was played by Swedish Born Marie Arnet and is permitted the longest and most distinctive passages of singing of the three children. The role of Peter was delivered by Iestyn Morris who did a fine job of singing whilst flying above the main stage. One of the most poignant moments is when Wendy approaches the untouchable Peter whilst he is sadly recounting his troubled past.

Another tough moment that seemed a little needless was with Hook and the Pirates and the casual appearance of a quite realistic severed head of a pirate which is passed around with some amusement. I think this level of graphic content is a long way from the Peter Pan JM Barrie might have imagined.

Overall the psychological complexity of the characters seems a little unbalanced to the jovial spirits of the inhabitants of Neverland and the constant arrival of yet more props often overshadows both the singing and music .

Directed by Keith Warner it’s an adventurous and multi-layered production that has gone a long way to unearth and develop the adult overtones of Barrie’s story. Similar to how this story has been adapted in a variety of ways by others over the years, this production seeks to reinvent it both visually and musically against a vision of a loveless Victorian family life and whilst admirable it just doesn’t fly as well as it could.

Jeff Grant

11-06-15  

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