Jemma Beggs visits Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre to review Peter Pan, a modern take on a classic by writer Rob Evans and directed by Róisín McBrinn.
Sherman Cymru has returned after over two years of renovation with a modern and captivating Christmas production, featuring an interesting new twist on J.M. Barrie’s much-loved classic – Peter Pan. Adapted by Cardiff-based writer Rob Evans and directed by Róisín McBrinn the show features a small cast of familiar television faces (Russell Gomer playing the deliciously dark role of Hook and Kyle Rees effortlessly carrying off the much abused Smee) combined with some new young theatre school graduates including Rebecca Newman as a headstrong Wendy, Joshua Cosidine as a charismatic Peter Pan and Adam Scales, Daniel Graham and Meilir Rhys Williams as a hilarious trio of Lost Boys.
With the festive notes of the live band drifting in from the foyer and the promise of mulled wine and mince pies at the interval, we settled down to an hour and a half of fun, flying and fantasy. I will admit, when the curtain lifted to reveal the Darling family (minus the deceased Mrs Darling and more to my disappointment minus the charming nanny in the form of adorable dog Nana) situated in a 1970s council flat I did feel a sinking sensation in my stomach. Where was the familiar, charming Darling household? However, the talent of the actors and the brilliance of Rob Evans’ script soon became apparent as the production succeeded in its aim to leave behind the Edwardian setting and old fashioned view of childhood and bring Peter Pan into a more modern world. There was laughter from the audience right from the beginning at the bang up to date humour as Wendy is informed by her brother that he has “to attend my toy’s wedding – I mean civil partnership!”
The show retained the wonder and magic of the original story through the colourful, mystical set of Neverland… and by staying true to the essence of the main characters.
The moment that the audience really became convinced though was obvious. The first glimpse of Neverland introduced ‘The Lost Boys’ whose hilarious antics and endearing song, still being sung by most of the children as they left the theatre at the end of the night, united the audience and brought out the first round of applause. The show retained the wonder and magic of the original story through the colourful, mystical set of Neverland and well-designed otherworldly costumes and by staying true to the essence of the main characters.
A single light whizzing about the stage managed to convey the cheeky character of Tinkerbell; although speechless her funny noises translated by Peter ensured she was still often at the centre of the action. And indeed she created quite an impression as the entire audience immediately rose to the occasion with thundering applause and shouts of “I do believe in fairies” to bring her back to life after she saves Peter and Wendy. And Peter himself, a little revamped with a red mohawk, but still sporting his traditional green outfit, perfectly captured the childlike arrogance and bossiness combined with a sweet vulnerability which is so well known to his character – “Oh the cleverness of me!” he proclaims after Wendy (taking the modern route of stapling rather sewing) reattaches his shadow to him.
Of course every hero needs a villain and Russell Gomer played the part of Hook to perfection. He managed to convey the evil, heartless pirate (complete with an impressive hat and lashings of eyeliner) while countering this with a more sensitive side showing the paralyzing terror of the famous ticking crocodile and his hilarious interactions with Smee, who brilliantly portrayed the idiotic cowardly pirate constantly yelled at and ridiculed by everyone.
The reinvention of Wendy was a refreshing twist on the original ‘damsel in distress’ character. Retaining the recognisable stubborn streak of the original, Rob Evans took her character to the next level, figuring apparently that “Wendy, must at some point, want to pull off her pinny and kick some ass”. Which is just what she did. The dangerously persuasive Hook entices her to join him in piracy to help capture Peter Pan and we return after the interval to a crowing, wild and unrecognisable Wendy who is now to be known as “Black Heart”. Of course, Wendy realises the error of her ways and returns to her senses in the nick of time to rescue Peter from a rather strange death – a glass box slowly filling with poison – an addition to the story which I did not fully understand or enjoy.
‘Wendy, must at some point, want to pull off her pinny and kick some ass!’
Indeed there were a few twists and exclusions which were not quite as successful as the remaking of Wendy. The swordfight finale was not altogether satisfying and culminated in a rather disappointing ending. Also sadly absent were the teasing mermaids, intimidating Indians and alluring Tiger Lily and impressive pirate ship ‘The Jolly Roger’,
Despite this, overall Sherman Cymru presented an entertaining and thrilling adventure which was highly enjoyable for everyone. The script included humour for young and old alike: Mr Darling’s invention of ‘The Doghouse’ – a place for naughty parents to be banished to when they are in trouble – went down particularly well. Judging by the level of loud and knowing laughter, it was something the majority of the adult audience was more than familiar with. Exiting the theatre into the dark, cold night I did feel a sense of returning from the magical wonder of Neverland, the crowing of Peter still echoing in my ears. Whilst hoping to slip into in a dreamland of adventure and excitement, with the subzero temperatures I am unlikely to be leaving my window open for Peter tonight…