King's Theatre, Glasgow, 27 April 2010, and touring
IN INTERVIEWS to promote this National Theatre of Scotland reworking of the JM Barrie classic, director John Tiffany has talked about the ambitious scale of the production. With its 17-strong cast, live music, extensive flying and pyrotechnic magic, it is bigger, he reckons, even than his staging of 'Black Watch'.
This may well be the case but, for all the considerable achievements of Tiffany's various collaborators, their combined efforts seem to squash the story's playfulness. It is a production too much about shade, too little about light.
In David Greig's new version of the play, the setting has moved north from prim Kensington to steely Edinburgh, where boys toss red-hot rivets to the men constructing the Forth Rail Bridge and swing dangerously from the scaffolding for a dare. The design by Laura Hopkins evokes the three great diamond structures of the crossing which, when we move to Neverland, cleverly turn to reveal their more organic side. Now the landscape is one of cairns and crags, a place instilled with the song and folklore of the Highlands.
This transition from the industrial city to the elemental countryside makes a good deal of sense. Barrie, whose 150th anniversary is in May, grew up in Kirriemuir in Angus, but achieved fame in London. It is reasonable to assume he would have associated his world of childhood fantasy with the sprites and fairies of Scottish folklore, while his understanding of grown-up order would have been largely metropolitan. Thus in a play that is all about the struggle between the adult head and the childhood heart, the journey north feels psychologically right.
There is a clear logic, too, in Greig's gentle narrative revisions as Peter Pan and the Lost Boys do battle with Captain Hook and his pirates. Yet somehow it all seems a bit of an effort. Yes, there is some entertaining aerial work, such as when Peter Pan walks down the side of the proscenium arch. Yes, the illusions, courtesy of Jamie Harrison, are dazzling, especially the free-floating fiery ball that is Tinkerbell. And yes, Davey Anderson's score is wide-ranging and atmospheric.
But the production lacks definition. It's partly that there are often so many people on stage you can't work out who is talking, partly that there is a lot of shouty acting and partly that the hazy light never lifts. But on a deeper level, it is that there is not enough joy in Peter's world for it to seem irresistibly enticing and, conversely, not enough sense of a failed romance to compel Wendy back towards adulthood.
As a result, the central clash of opposing wills is muted and we don't feel the full tragic weight of the loss of childhood and the inevitability of growing up.
Peter Pan is at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, from 1-5 June, and His Majesty’s Tehatre, Aberdeen, from 15-19 June 2010.
© Mark Fisher, 2010
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