With alfresco theatres and leafy backdrops one of the highlights of the summer theatre season, this year there is a new rival for London’s most magical venue in the form of a large white tent in the middle of Kensington Gardens at the birth place of the boy who never wanted to grow up.
If you have ever dreamed of leaving the city behind and flying off to Neverland – a feeling surely much exacerbated during a tube strike – then the new production of Peter Pan may bring you as close as it has ever been possible to get. J M Barrie’s classic story of lost boys in need of a mother is told here in its original version complete with a crowing Peter, proud Tiger Lily, mermaids too crafty to catch, the comically evil Hook and his arch enemy the clock-swallowing crocodile.
Ciaran Kellgren is perfect as Peter, the mischievous, stubborn eternal youth, who, whilst happy just to bound around causing trouble, cannot help but attract the attention of Wendy, Tiger Lily and Tinkerbell. His fairy sidekick (Itxaso Moreno) throws off her Disney girly image to become a grubby, punk tomboy with fairy lights in her messy hair and ripped pink tutu – picture a dishevelled Lily Allen after four days at Glastonbury in the mud – her fierce attitude often targeted towards an undeserving Wendy. Not that she can’t hold her own however, Abby Ford’s Wendy is as motherly and kind as you would expect, but she wears boys’ pyjama bottoms under her frilly nightdress and she is as happy crossing swords with Hook and his motley crew of pirates as she is telling the lost boys a bedtime story.
Hook (Jonathan Hyde) is arguably one of the most vivid characters in children’s literature and whilst several children were seen cowering under their seats on his arrival, this production portrays a vulnerable villain who just dreams of being wanted by someone without reptilian DNA and to be tucked up in bed by someone other than his right hand man Smee, who is definitely the Bert to his Ernie.
Set in the round in the 1,100 seat pavilion, the unique element to this production is not only the characters’ ability to fly up to the stars and zoom down to the depths of the sea, but the 360 degree CGI screen which allows the audience to visit the watery world of Neverland, the inside of the lost boys’ tree stump home and, most impressively, soar across London, over Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, through the archways of Tower Bridge and up into the clouds as the 3D projected images rush towards you in all directions.
Never venturing too far into the realms of panto, Peter Pan is the perfect family treat. Revisiting the tale as an adult for the first time, noticing the sadness underlying the story is unavoidable, but watching the children’s captivated faces as the rooftops of London rush over their heads is surely the best view in the whole of Kensington Gardens this summer.