Peter Pan, JM Barrie’s story of the boy who never grows up may be a classic but it’s also a parable for modern times. If you live in inner-city Sydney chances are you’ve met one – a “manchild”, that is. Mid-thirties, skinny-legged jeans brandishing a beard, never goes anywhere without his skateboard. Surry Hills is a mecca for these Lost Boys. They mill about sipping soy lattes and eating sourdough, praying they’ll never have to get a mortgage or a real job. It’s a pretty shrewd move then on Ralph Myers part to put Peter Pan on the Belvoir main stage smack bang in the middle of manchild central. And in this production he gives them exactly what they are craving: a fantasy world full of fairy dust and make-believe, where their inner child can run rampant, stuffing its face with sweets without fear of counting calories.
Myers’ production is basically a panto for grown ups. Sure, children are most welcome, and with its fast-paced 1hr 30min running time sans interval they are sure to enjoy the show, but this is much more a rollicking ride for the young at heart. Adapted by Tommy Murphy from four source texts (Barrie, ever the perfectionist, tinkered with his tale for thirty years, resulting in myriad versions) this is a cleverly condensed play that may skip lightly over the Indians and turn the mermaids into a bit of a sideshow but it captures the essence of all that is great about the original flight of fancy.
Meyne Wyatt is charismatic and magnetic as Peter, with his exuberant youthful energy and naïve narcissism. When he says, “come fly Wendy” we wish he’d take us, too. Geraldine Hakewill is perfectly prim and proper as Wendy, the little girl Peter takes to Neverland to play mother to the parentless Lost Boys. John Leary is hilarious whether he’s crawling around on the floor as Nana the dog or indulging in a bit of swashbuckling tomfoolery as Nibs or Smee, as is Gareth Davies who gets very much into the childish spirit of things as Slightly. Harriet Dyer draws big laughs as Twin One and Two, while Jimi Bani is sweet and endearing as young John and very entertaining as the Captain-Hook-hungry Crocodile.
Of course, the real fun is reserved for Charlie Garber who plays Hook, the plotting pirate whose every fibre is focussed on finding Peter Pan and making him walk the plank. more info Garber grabs this role hook, line and sinker (pardon the pun) and runs far and away with it. In his stage directions for performing a “fairy play”, such as this one, JM Barrie states that: “The difference between a fairy play and a realistic one is that in the former all the characters are really children with a child’s outlook on life. This applies to the so-called adults in the story as well as the young people”. Garber, perhaps better than most, understands this distinction implicitly. Hook, therefore, is a child’s version of evil, larger than life, simplistic and one-sided, as is his real-world foil Mr Darling – which is just as it should be.
However, the ultimate joy of this production is in Robert Cousins’ ingeniously imaginative set design, which playfully recreates the make-believe world of children with the kind of deft versatility of a Wes Anderson or Michel Gondry film. A child’s bedroom is the backdrop that becomes Neverland with no-frills transformations. Blankets turn a wardrobe into rocks where mermaids squawk like seals, and then become the rising waters which threaten to drown Wendy and Peter. A bunk bed miraculously becomes a pirate ship at full mast. Even a single bed proves to be a cunning predator.
On the whole, Myers’ Peter Pan proves to be a fun-filled nostalgia fest that will transport adult audiences back to those early wonder years where anything and everything was possible. And, as an extra bonus, after the manchildren in the audience ride their skateboards home they might like to practice their new flying technique – now that they know how it’s done.
by J.M. Barrie | adapted by Tommy Murphy
Director Ralph Myers
Venue: UPSTAIRS Belvoir St Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Previews: 5 – 6 January 2013
Dates: 9 January – 10 February 2013
Tickets: $65 – $45 | Family (2 adults and 2 children) $130 (additional children $25)
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 | belvoir.com.au
This review first appeared on Australian Stage