Confession: Peter Pan was my first heartthrob. The elfin featured guy who flew in through the Darlings’ window and captured my imagination forever.
Sure, it was the Disney version I fell in love with; but it’s the legend that stayed with me and remains one of my favourite childhood tales to date.
JM Barrie’s Peter Pan at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is set against the backdrop of World War 1, in memory of George Llewelyn Davies — one of the children that inspired JM Barrie’s play. This production is a soaring yet sobering tribute to a whole generation of lost boys.
The action begins in a military hospital, with uniformed men whistling war songs and nurses tending to their injuries. We switch to the world of Peter and Wendy and the soldiers become ghost-like figures.
They lurk in trenches carved out at the front of the stage, while Peter and his colourful crew leap and tumble about. Their ‘invisible hands’ attach ropes and harnesses that allow Peter and the Darling children to take flight.
It’s incredibly effective visually and Peter Pan at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is a deeply moving study of war. But it’s not at all dark or depressing, thanks to a production bursting with funny bits, cool fighting, fabulous sets and memorable performances. Plus flying scenes that lift you off your seat!
Peter has a truly boyish charm, given a streetwise edge from actor Hiran Abeysekera. It’s sweet to watch Peter and schoolgirl bossy Wendy (Kae Alexander) play out a childhood romance that, as we know, is also a coming of age story for all but one.
John and Michael are entertaining as proper little British gentlemen in training, while The Lost Boys provide plenty of comic moments. We also loved the pirates – particularly a female Smee (Beverly Rudd) and Captain Hook (David Birrell) who’s everything you want in a badass buccaneer.
The play blends nostalgia with some surprisingly futuristic elements. The mermaids are eerie mechanical creatures with gas mask faces, and fairy Tinker Bell is part robot, part alien — her mischief and poignancy brought to life by a puppetmaster Rachel Donovan.
Another clever effect is the crocodile who grows, not only in Hook’s anxious mind, but before our very eyes, his jaws enlarging from snappy cardboard to a trap door!
Sitting under the open sky, as the nightlights filled the arena, hearing Peter deliver JM Barrie’s famous line: ‘Do you believe in fairies? If you believe, clap your hands!’ It actually felt like we’d been sprinkled with Tinker Bell dust as the entire audience clapped along.
Peter Pan at Open Air Theatre is funny, eloquent, tear-jerking and 100 percent magical. We flew all the way home.
Ezra (age 9)
‘Peter Pan was full of cutlasses crossing, swordfighting skills and gravity-defying moves. It was very funny, especially when Peter Pan was jumping and laughing on the bed and then he just fell asleep! They told the story very well even though it’s not exactly the same as the Disney animation. Actually I’m not sure which one I prefer – the play or the movie – they’re both really good! When it ended I felt sad that it was finished. I’d rate it 5 stars!’
Jed (age 6)
‘I thought Peter Pan was nice because of the flying, because it seemed fun. I liked the fighting, it looked cool. My favourite bit was when the crocodile ate Captain Hook, it looked really funny. Another good bit was when Peter showed them how to fly. I liked Tinker Bell because she drank poison to save Peter Pan’s life.’
Peter Pan at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, by box office Queen Mary’s Garden, Regent’s Park Inner Circle, NW1 4NU (Baker St tube). Recommended for ages 6+. 7.45pm (Tue-Wed), 2.15pm & 7.45pm (Thu-Sun); £25-£48.50 (ongoing until Jun 14)