The story of Peter Pan is well known, the Darling children telling bedtime stories that enthral Peter Pan, who whisks Wendy and her brothers off to the magical world of Neverland to live the adventures they tell each other about, stories of mermaids, pirates and fierce warrior women. We’re getting to the end of the year and lots of people are curating best of lists. I would submit that Mark Babych, director of Hull Truck’s Peter Pan, has had as good a year as anybody. I didn’t think I would enjoy anything as much as The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the last show he directed. I especially didn’t think I would enjoy Peter Pan, a play with source material that feels ever so slightly incongruent in our current social and political climate. And I was right, in a way. I don’t like it as much.
I love it, unconditionally. What he and his creative team did was turn me, for a couple of hours at least, from an adult to a child. I am grateful. And I wasn’t crying at the end. Um, it was very dusty and I have allergies. A serious reviewertm like me doesn’t cry…
Because I am a serious reviewertm, I went in with a lot of serious reviewertm questions about the stage design, lighting, acting performances and direction. And I kept up the façade of being a serious reviewertm for about ten minutes, making considered observations about the period it’s set in (Hull towards the end of the Second World War) and the accents used (mostly West and South Yorkshire, with a couple of Hull accents thrown in). After that I realised that none of the normal things that I would look for mattered, because this show is – and again, I am an extremely serious reviewertm not given to fits of hyperbole – magical.
Why? Let me count the ways. The cast was extremely well chosen. Vanessa Schofield is a wonderful Wendy, walking the tightrope of enjoying childhood whilst wishing to grow up, just a little. Baker Mukasa’s Peter was another highlight. He really gets the character and imbued him with the mixture of confidence and insecurity that showed his attention to detail. Schofield and Mukasa’s relationship felt innocent and personal and grew throughout the show. There really isn’t enough space to talk about how much I enjoyed both of them and look forward to seeing them in other roles.
They were ably supported by the adults, Melissa Dean (Mother/Tiger Lily), Ryan O’Donnell (Father/Hook) and Joanna Holden (Tinker Bell/Nana). Dean was equally comfortable as the soft, loving Mother, humanising and balancing out the worst excesses O’Donnell’s father, and the rambunctious Tiger Lily, the most famous and feared Native American in history (with a tendency to get captured by Hook and his boys). Holden is a real highlight and her Tinker Bell was, according to many of the children in the audience, the best part of the show. You know she is good, because when she orchestrates the attempted murder of Wendy and is ‘banished’ by Peter (the way she pronounces banished is worth the entrance fee alone. I howled with laughter), it is she, and not Wendy that the audience sympathise with.
In my notes, I wrote that O’Donnell’s Hook was delicious. I stand by it. He was at turns campy, hammy, genuinely frightening and always funny. He played Hook like someone that would definitely dress up to go and watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I feel a kinship with him, trying to navigate being a serious adult while still longing for the adventures and freedoms of childhood. He is the perfect seasonal villain and every interaction he and Holden had together was a true delight.
I can’t believe I’ve got this far without talking about the stage. I’ll keep it brief: it’s perfect. The decision to keep the bed on stage throughout and have it become different things is subtle yet brilliant, reminding us of the power of dreams. I won’t spoil how flying is navigated, but it is really something that has to be seen to be believed. The entire creative team deserves tremendous credit for creating theatre that felt magical. Scratch that. They deserve credit for making theatre that is magical.
- Peter Pan is at the Hull Truck Theatre from now until 4th January 2020. Tickets can be purchased here