Wendy & Peter Pan by Ella Hickson, RSC at the RST, Stratford
What a treat! Juliet and I went to the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon on Saturday night to see their new family production Wendy & Peter Pan. Yes, you read it right – Wendy comes first in Ella Hickson’s re-telling of J M Barrie’s original story, which was originally titled Peter and Wendy.
Although keeping much of Barrie’s original story in tact, Hickson has changed the emphasis, giving Wendy the lead over Peter. She has also added in a new plot driver for Wendy and her family in the device of a third brother who dies at the beginning of the play, echoing Barrie’s own life. It is Wendy’s belief that he has become a Lost Boy that fuels her quest in Neverland. Wendy’s parent too, in their grief, go on a separate quest to find their way through the emotions that threaten their marriage, and the two stories intersect throughout the play with resonance.
No sooner has Wendy arrived in Neverland than it seems that all the females there are out to get her. Tink tells Lost Boy Tootles to shoot her out of the sky, Tiger Lily is a warrior princess who nearly shoots Wendy too, luckily the Mermaids are off-stage in this production. In the end the girls realise that being part of Team Wendy is the way to go.
At first Wendy agrees to be Mother to the Lost Boys, but when it becomes clear that Peter doesn’t realise that it is not really just a game, she leaves them and gets captured by the pirates. Guy Henry, who many will recognise as Dr Hansen from BBC TV series Holby, was a rather world-weary Captain Hook, aware that his slightly Jack Sparrow-ish looks were fading, waiting for the tick of the crocodile come to take him away – he wishes he had Peter’s time again. His rag-tag bunch of pirates were suitably shambolic, led by a lovelorn Smee.
As befits the girl being groomed to be mother, Fiona Button as Wendy (actually 27) was wise beyond her thirteen years, but often has to fight against herself to get her words out, to make the boys understand – which they do for just a second or two having the attention span of gnats, you could sense Wendy’s frustration.
As for the boys, well they were straight out of boys own adventures, where everything is about fun. The minute it stops being fun, they do something different. They were very entertaining, and fulfilled all the stereotypes needed, the geeky one, the swotty one, the working-class Welsh one… Wendy’s brothers John and Michael too – bombastic and in touch his feminine side. And this bring me to Peter…
As you can see from the photo, Peter had not just one shadow, but a team of six, who helped him to fly. It sounds bizarre, but they were for the most part totally unintrusive, and manipulated Peter, and any others who needed to be ferried in air or water with great dexterity, and were in charge of the wires from the ceiling during other scenes. Sam Swann was a stocky Peter, bristling with boyish bravado, his hair bedecked with a little red quiff that made me think of a young Morrissey(!).
A lot of laughs though come from Tink, the little fairy with a larger than life personality. She initially appears as a light, but underneath that is a roly-poly Essex girl trying (and succeeding) to get out! Charlotte Mills was a revelation, and Tink quickly became my daughter’s favourite character.
Everything about this production, like Matilda which we saw at the RSC too (review here), was classy and the way they used the space was wonderful; special mentions go to the balletic crocodile, and Captain Hook’s rather wonderful ship. It was a proper play with just enough panto in it to get the laughs, no dog and completely un-Disneyfied, but full of heart too.
I laughed, I jumped, I gasped, I very nearly cried too, I cheered, I booed, I clapped – We loved it! It’s on at Stratford until Easter – Go if you can – it’s rather special.