Written by J.M. Barrie
Adapted by Janys Chambers
Directed by Ben Occhipinti
The boy who refused to grow old.
In tough times, it is understandable why one would resist emerging into an adult world – when the alternative is peppered with swashbuckling adventure, hidden dens, and endless stories. J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, adapted time and over, finds a new version of the tale with Janys Chamber’s Peter Pan and Wendy.
And where adaptations remain stuck in the more spiritual and darker aspects of the tale, Chamber’s grasps the magic of Neverland and firmly roots itself in the pleasantness of it all. Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s end-of-season show, under Ben Occhipinti’s direction, aims for the latter – a charming, whimsical, and magical experience for the entire family.
As Pan whisks Wendy and the Darling children away from their London townhouse and to Neverland, audiences are treated to familiar sights. Skull Rock to Mermaid Lagoon, and aboard the Jolly Roger, the Pitlochry Festival Theatre takes a dash of imagination (and pixie dust) to catapult audiences around Neverland. But writer Chambers changes certain aspects of the tale – stripping out J.M. Barrie’s more insensitive material, and introducing mortality, and at times loss. The storytelling here hits the same points of the original tale but offers a more significant role for the likes of Tinkerbell and Wendy.
Petulant, glittering, and a fairy to believe in – Patricia Panther makes a wonderfully excitable but vicious Tinkerbell in moments. And though not as petty, but certainly capable of holding their own, Fiona Wood’s Wendy makes for a motherly surrogate to both the Darling boys and the Lost ones. Vocally, Wood and Panther lead many of the production’s song numbers – atmospheric compositions relying more on the melody than strict lyrics, Robert Hiley’s musical direction more akin to the spiritual and folk the usual Festive chart-topper.
It’s always right to root for the baddie, and what a pair of ne’er-do-wells to rally behind in Colin McCredie’s snivelling and conniving Hook, and Deirdre Davis’ Mr Smee (sporting a spiffing beard might we add). McCredie’s dastardly deeds allow for a much-needed sense of dread with the show, enough to spook the front-row kiddies, but reserved and resolved quick enough not to cause any real distress. Absolutely robbing the spotlight, is Anna Orton’s costume design for Hook, pomped and regal, with a terrific change to the usual black flowing locks.
Really, it is a shame the role isn’t fully-expanded – given a flickering moment of poignancy in Hook’s last moments, a recognition of himself within Pan. Similar to other key cast members, the show’s shorter run-time, and thus pacing, does leave expositional lines to be delivered fast and dampen what could otherwise be game-changing female leads – though Panther and Wood still achieve a rounded sense of both humour and fierceness.
But what of Pan themselves? Robbie Scott’s feather-capped protagonist is as spritely as one could hope and carries a thirst for adventure which leads them in over their heads. There is a requisite curiosity and steady nerve to face Hook and lead the Lost Boys (with brilliant comedic performances from Euan Bennet and Delme Thomas), becoming a role model of sorts for Michael and John Darling, played by Ruairidh McDonald and Stephanie Payne. Payne relishes the childhood glee of the youngest Darling, striking an instant accord with the audience, and leading to a belly laugh with their first attempted flight.
Taking the correct course of action, Occhipinti’s production takes a degree of recognising the illusion of flight, and rather than attempt to conceal, instead leans into the excitement of Mark Gibson’s aerial choreography – incorporating the flight rigging into Orton’s set design. It makes for an open, altogether stripped theatrical sense of performance – meaning the performers can lean into the fun aspect of it all, unafraid of giving away the mechanics of the flight.
It makes for a sincere atmosphere surrounding the show, which skirts the edges of Panto, but still retains a festive spirit with its charm and smiles. Peter Pan and Wendy is a fitting end for the Pitlochry Festival Theatre season, as the story favourite closes the book for 2022, ready to look ahead to the adventures next season may bring.
You’ll never really grow up so long as you go to shows like this. So, embrace the tales you were told, believe in faeries, and though they say to never smile at a Crocodile, after watching Peter Pan and Wendy, it might be difficult not to.
Whimsical Fun for the Entire Family
Peter Pan and Wendy runs at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre until December 23rd.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Fraser Band