Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure in Concert at the Adelphi Theatre, London.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
There is something about the innocence of childhood that must act as a draw for theatrical folk, for how else could one explain the multiplicity of musical adaptations of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. As composers who have come to be appreciated for their interpretations of classic children’s tales – from Just So (based on the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling), via Honk!, their adaptation of The Ugly Duckling, to The Three Little Pigs, which enjoyed a run at the Palace Theatre this summer – George Stiles and Anthony Drewe share a sense of playfulness that fits in well with the tale of an island where the eponymous hero and his gang of Lost Boys are in a state of perpetual childhood, even as they long for the parental care of a mother.
Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure has been performed both as a fully staged work and as a concert version. It is the latter which received a brief two-show revival at the Adelphi Theatre this Sunday, allowing new audiences to join in with long-time Stiles and Drewe fans in enjoying what is possibly their best musical.
It is all too easy for a production of Peter Pan whose principal actors are all adults pretending to be children to descend into infantilism, reinforcing the cloying tweeness of Barrie’s conceit. Thankfully, Willis Hall’s book and Stiles and Drewe’s songs prevent that, containing enough clever wordplay and rambunctious music to make the Lost Boys believable as a group of wayward kids. Under director Jonathan Butterell’s eye, the gang’s numbers take over the Adelphi stage, with Jack North’s Nibs proving an engaging leader when Pan is not around.
Peter himself is, on the page, a cocky, boastful little boy who has never had anyone around to prick his ego. Ray Quinn plays him with an earnest sense of self-assuredness and concern for his family that works well with the material. His principal number, ‘The Cleverness of Me’, is played lightly, working well with the Celtic influences of the music.
Quinn’s Pan is balanced well with Evelyn Hoskins as Wendy, who has the unenviable task of being an adult who is playing a little girl who is called upon to play an adult. Her portrayal is serious without being over earnest, youthful without being juvenile. Hoskins impressed earlier this year in the title role of Carrie at the Southwark Playhouse, and this role should further cement her as a force to look out for in future.
Balancing the children of Peter and his gang are the rather more adult, but no less childlike, pirates. Steve Elias’ Starkey and Cameron Blakely’s Smee stand out as the troupe evoke the spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan in their close harmonies eulogising the dastardly virtues of their captain, James Hook.
And in any performance of Peter Pan, it is the character and performance of Captain Hook that determines the tone of the whole piece, and determines whether a production is deemed a success or a failure. Thankfully, Bradley Walsh is firmly of the former, with a Hook that is fearsome and a genuine threat when so called upon, yet not afraid to camp up the more pantomimic elements where necessary. Walsh’s perfect sense of timing helps provide a portrayal that is begging to be seen in a fully staged production of this musical.
The most beautiful aspects of Stiles and Drewe’s adaptation, though, are in its dreamlike opening and closing numbers extolling the virtues of wondering about what is out there beyond the stars. Here, the music is soaringly romantic and wistful in nature, anthems to the glories of imagination and storytelling. And throughout the show, Anthony Drewe’s lyrics are as light and playful as Tinker Bell, tossing wordplay and rhymes about like verbal confetti. Chief among these is the show’s biggest and most audacious pun, as Peter tells the Darling children that the secret to flying may start with fairy dust and happy thoughts, but the key is to ‘Never Land’.
Sheila Hancock’s narration – including a closing scene with Quinn’s Peter that would melt the iciest of hearts – and an underused Jenna Russell as Mrs Darling round out a concert that gladdens the heart, allowing us to soar with Peter, Wendy, John and Michael. As it does so, it provides a sense of fun for children, and allows the grown-ups in the audience to recapture a little of the childhood wonder of which we could all benefit from time to time.
Readers may also be interested in:
Interview – George Stiles and Anthony Drewe on being partners in rhyme
Mary Poppins UK and Ireland tour – full casting revealed – News