Forget the camp, red-jacketed Captain Hook, his bumbling assistant Smee and the green-tighted boy who wouldn’t grow up of panto and Disney. National Theatre of Scotland’s Peter Pan is a far darker affair.
Transposed to Scotland by adaptor David Greig – but, of course, taking place mostly in Neverland – this Peter Pan is loomed over by the Forth Bridge currently being built, in part, by poor rivet boys who would throw glowing hot rivets to the workmen. Reality though this may be, it is far from gritty. With the addition of working songs, cleverly created flying rivets and boys who clearly enjoy their part in the work, this is not Barrie via Dickens.
Neverland is changed too. The Red Indians have gone, replaced with wolf queens, and there is not an eye patch or frock coat among the pirates. Instead Cal MacAninch’s Captain Hook is a tattooed, bare-chested, leather waistcoated horror whose hook is attached with a bloodied bandage.
John Tiffany’s production has indeed exploited the darkness in Barrie’s original, giving the play a grimier, more feral feel. But this is not to the detriment of any magic and wonder; it is most certainly still a family show. In fact, the arrival of Tinkerbell in an iridescent fashion I have never seen done before, and Peter’s gravity defying entrance, are enough to encourage the adults in the audience back into a childish state of excitement.
That, of course, is at the heart of Barrie’s tale. Playwright Greig has added his own wit to the well known tale, and though he has made changes, these build on the central concerns of the story. Kirsty Mackay’s Wendy is full to bursting with childish excitement when she first meets Peter, but the need to live in reality pulls hard on her. Towards the end of the piece, the pain of the unwritten impossible love between Wendy and Peter and the sadness of the moment-to-moment existence of Peter, when viewed from the outside, are hard to bear.
But this is Peter Pan, the story of a boy full of lust for life, excitement and happiness; it must have a happy ending. We might have to leave childish innocence behind, but that doesn’t mean we can’t indulge in the wonder of a fairy story every now and then, especially when the fairy, as in this Peter Pan, is so enchanting.