THE story of Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up, is the 2016/17 popular choice for Christmas shows, and at Exeter, director Paul Jepson has taken most of Frederick Gaines’s stage adaptation and infused his own message of feminism and the pan-sexuality that Christine and the Queens have brought into this week’s news.
Ingeniously, Steve Bennett, the best known and loved Northcott dame of all time, returns to the theatre on the university campus as Mr Darling … and Tinker Bell. You can be certain of fine comedy timing from Steve, and even when he’s confined to ringing a bell to communicate it doesn’t stop him. I won’t tell you the best bit!
The director’s family insisted on a Wendy in something a bit more practical than a nightdress, and a Peter whose gender-fluidity made him the perfect role model for the young Wendy, though I’m not sure the words entirely supported that approach. In any event Laura Prior is a plucky Peter, and Kerry Peers combines the traditionally maternal Mrs Darling with a dashing Hook – very clearly a woman.
Perhaps the big star of this show is the set and its beautiful and inventive video projections, designed by Ellan Parry and Daniel Denton. There is always something to delight the eyes, whether it’s penguins or pirate ships, clouds or flying children.
The usual Red Indians were replaced by Boy Scouts PLAYING at being Indians, led by Tiger Lily who was, of course, a girl. So both politically correct and contemporary with Barrie’s original story.
Paul Jepson’s artistic direction of the Northcott has brought the theatre back to life after its sadly dormant months, and he and his team, like other theatre managements, are battling with reduced (or non existent) funding and ever-increasing costs. In this Peter Pan he has concentrated on a fine set and a handful of excellent professional actors.
Local youngsters have been brought in for the rest of the large cast, and in some cases the demands have been too great. It is often difficult to hear the words of this (wordy) script, and the radical psychology is lost on young children.
But the school’s matinee I attended was filled with happy children vastly enjoying the physical comedy and the songs, as well as colourful costumes and a familiar story with a twist.
It should do very well, and continues at the Northcott until 1st January.