Peter Pan – Lyric Theatre – Review
by Cathy Brown
Multi-talented writer and director Paul Boyd returns to the Lyric Theatre this Christmas. Following last year’s trip to Wonderland, this time, he’s headed to Neverland where the timeless tale of Peter Pan gets sprinkled with his musical magic in this fun and imaginative family Christmas show.
It takes a while to find its feet, as the opening scenes introduce the Darling children reading their Peter Pan bedtime story, desperate to know how it ends. As their mother and father leave for a dinner party, the children are under the care of Nanny Cookson, who may not be all that she seems. The action truly begins when the children fly away with Peter Pan, rising up through the sky in a stunning tableau as they move across the London skyline – a scene of the purest theatrical magic.
The production moves to Neverland, where we are introduced to the Lost Boys through the inventive use of the Lyric’s many spaces. Captain Hook (Allison Harding) and her hapless sidekick Smee (a hilarious but underused Christina Nelson) are on the warpath and Wendy must try and get her brothers home before they start to forget where they came from.
Boyd’s imagination is big and along with set designer Stuart Marshall and lighting and AV designer Conleth White, they use striking animation and a stunning light show to bring West End values to the Lyric stage. Tinker Bell is depicted as an energetic, sparkling ball of light and the space is used to great effect throughout, particularly in the Mermaid Song. If there is a failing, it is that the production relies a little too much on its effects and scale to the detriment of the narrative, the pace of which lags at times.
The core ensemble cast of eight play multiple roles around Rhiannon Chesterman’s no-nonsense Wendy and Michael Mahony’s surprisingly vulnerable Peter Pan. Both are strong singers and confident performers, although Wendy feels at times like a foil for the madness going on around her, rather than a fully-fledged character.
Colette Lennon Dougal does a lot with the small role of Mrs Darling, using her beautiful singing voice to great effect. Christopher Finn and Rea Campbell-Hill are a winning pair as Michael and John Darling while Allison Harding’s Captain Hook prowls about the stage, oozing menace at every turn.
However, special mention must go to Alan Richardson, who is strong as patriarch Mr Darling and has a great duet with Colette Lennon Dougal’s Tiger Lily, but soars, quite literally as the scene-stealing Queen of the Mermaids, in a vocal performance of operatic brilliance.
An ensemble of Lost Boys (and girls!) rounds out the cast bringing a strong energy to what can, at times, be a slightly serious production. The poignancy of the Peter Pan myth is brought to the fore, but the show could do with some more humour to engage the young audience and brighten the often sombre mood.
At the heart of the production are Boyd’s excellent songs, from the heartfelt ensemble ode to mothers, She’ll Be There to the Caribbean influenced This is My Island – which acts as a fantastic introduction to the Lost Boys. It helps that all the cast are strong singers, although at times the backing track threatens to overwhelm some of the vocals, particularly at the start of the show.
One of the eight year olds who came along with me declared the show ‘very enthusiastic, fun and creative’ and even though it lacks the infectious vitality of last year’s Alice: The Musical, Peter Pan will undoubtedly captivate a young audience with its stunning special effects, strong songs and top-notch performances.