YOU know the story – the boy who can fly, the boy who never grew up, the boy who lives with a tribe of Lost Boys in Neverland, where he constantly battles with the evil Captain Hook, the boy who is looking for a mother …
But what about that mother figure? Wendy – stolid, dependable Wendy with her bottle of tonic and her boundless fund of stories? What is Wendy’s story?
This year’s Christmas show at Bath’s inventive and flexible space, The Egg, goes back beyond the beloved play and pantomime and novel to the original, from which James Baldwin has created Wendy: A Peter Pan Story. It has most of the familiar characters, a lot of the much-loved twists and tales … but Wendy is the central character, not Peter, who is lovable, but irritatingly cocky and know-it-all and has no care for the feelings of anyone who doesn’t want or do what he wants.
Baldwin has given the story a powerful 21st century background, with Wendy as a bright, hard-working teenager, with a demanding younger brother and a depressed mother. Wendy does everything. She shops. She cooks. She tries to keep the flat clean. She tells stories to Jon Michael. She squeezes her school work in between the hours when she is doing everything else. And she doesn’t let on that she is being very nastily bullied online and at school.
The framework of the story is a game and designer Anisha Fields has created fabulous graphics for this complicated, teasing puzzle, with its many rules (999,990 … and counting), while movement director Deepraj Singh uses contemporary dance, movement inspired by dance from many cultures and acrobatics to bring to life the different characters, including the brilliantly witty trio of mermaids.
Tink is a stroppy fairy, as we all know, but here, voiced and controlled by actor and puppeteer Alice Lamb, we get the back-story and we understand why this fairy is so grumpy.
Newly graduated from Bristol School of Acting, Liana Cottrill is wholly convincing and delightful, making her professional stage debut as Wendy. She is dedicated and loving and worn to the bone by responsibilities far beyond her years. But the awfully big adventure she finds herself taking reveals her as a brave and strong young woman who finds herself in Neverland.
Joseph Tweedale gives a brilliantly energetic, physical performance as Peter. Joseph is a familiar face to both Bath and Bristol audiences, and here he is charismatic and infuriating in equal measure!
JoAnne Haines is another familiar performer in our area – recently seen in the powerful Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror, at Bristol Old Vic. Here she is convincing and endearing as both the demanding younger brother, Jon Michael and dear old Tootles (representing all the Lost Boys).
The cast is completed by Rozelle Gemma, an actor-writer and singer based in Bristol, who is both Wendy’s loving but depressed mother and a gloriously over-the-top Captain Hook, with hapless ship’s cat, a bright pink jump-suit and a clock that has stopped.
The whole show is visually and musically delightful – the young children in the audience were captivated and excited and the oldies like us (while not always on top of the game technology and terminology) were enchanted by a clever take on an old story. It’s not so much a feminist version as a story for young people in our time, trying to deal with adult problems, the horrible implications of social media and the Covid disturbance of their education.
This is yet another terrific premiere for Theatre Royal Bath – we look forward to hearing that it has been grabbed with both hands by theatres all around the country!
Photographs by Camilla Adams