With the Whingers finding their theatrical diaries peculiarly empty four star reviews in the FT and in the Daily Telegraph*turned the Whingers’ last minute fancy to the new version of J M Barrie‘s Peter Pan at the Barbican Theatre.
Money being quite tight at the moment following the excesses of the West End Whingers’ party, Phil phoned the Barbican’s charming (it turns out) press officer to see if they might consider giving generously only to be told that the centre’s policy was not to supply comps for bloggers unless they were affiliated to some sort of august journal (we’re paraphrasing slightly).
Phil shoved his gearstick of charm into top gear and after a little deliberation the Barbican relented and agreed to give the Whingers one free ticket (you can see why Phil doesn’t try speed dating) but the Whingers would have to buy the second one. Yes it was just like those supermarket Buy-One-Get-One-Free Offers. At least on this occasion Phil was given a BOGOF rather than being told to BOG OFF for once.
So with their noses slightly out of joint (well, one nose out of joint) the Whingers thought it only appropriate they should produce half a review – maybe just the bad bits or every other word, perhaps. Better still: every other letter!
J h (B a k W t c) T f a y’s N t o a T e t e o S o l n‘s c -p o u t o w t t e B r i a o D v d G e g‘s g i t y n w v r i n of J B r i ‘s P t r P n h s e t n u s e a l a s c a i n w t p n t .On second thoughts, that’s quite time consuming.
John (Black Watch) Tiffany’s National Theatre of Scotland co-production with the Barbican of David Greig‘s gritty new version of J M Barrie‘s Peter Pan has pretty much extinguished all associations with panto or Disney**, possibly by pissing on them.
This is a Peter Pan relocated to Scotland (and why not? J M B was Scottish after all), the Forth Railway Bridge is under construction. The unfinished cantilever towers dominate the stage, the lost boys are the rivet boys who toss red hot rivets up to the workmen. Mr Darling is a senior engineer on the project. When the “action” moves to Neverland the towers cleverly revolve to reveal – umm – the back of the Forth Bridge. To be honest we weren’t quite sure what we were looking at. They may have been trees, cliffs or ships.
The lighting didn’t help. It was unremittingly gloomy – at the bridge, in the nursery, in Neverland. This was the National Theatre of Scotland overplaying the national “dour” card if you ask us. We couldn’t even tell the characters apart, so difficult was it to make out what they were wearing. The relentless rust/brown palette was no help either. It was all so soporific that Andrew drifted off for 40 winks 20 winks.
The confusion was compounded by the sound – all the characters were miked but it was impossible to tell who was speaking without squinting through the gloom to see whose lips were moving.
And don’t get us started on the songs.
It was all very, very Scottish and short of dressing Peter in tartan golfing trousers and a Tam O’Shanter and having him toss a caber and cook a haggis on stage, it’s difficult to see how much more Scottish it could have been. If there are any homesick Scots still stranded in London by the ash cloud they should rush to the Barbican forthwith.
The website promises “gas-lamps”, “ticking crocodiles” and “an enchanted place of vivid characters”, well not quite. Andrew completely missed the crocodile (and Phil only spotted one very briefly), Phil missed any gas lamps and only Peter (Kevin Guthrie – rather good) distinguishes himself as anything like a vivid character. It’s almost the Julie Andrews: The Gift of Music school of advertising.
The trouble is that despite the lengths to which they have gone to distance PP from panto, the dialogue remains that of a children’s story and without the engagement with the audience it just sounds dead and occasionally daft as in the scene in which Peter revives the dead Tinkerbell by telling her that he believes in her. Well, of course, YOU do, Peter. As she’s your best friend it would be rather surprising if you didn’t. Actually, Tinkerbell, here portrayed a ball of flame, is one of the show’s few genuinely magical elements. The flying (not by Foy) is deliberately staged to show the mechanics behind it – you’ll believe a boy can be hauled about on a bit of rope.
Nana the dog, meanwhile, is operated by two housemaids (who later both play Tiger Lily, though Phil thought they were playing wolves) but as Nana is a stuffed dog on wheels there’s no danger of Peter Pan giving War Horse a run for its money.
Well, at least we now know why there aren’t any pantomimes in June.
So what of our rating? Have we halved it? Is our 2 really a 4? No! Should our 2 become 1? That would be too harsh. Our 2 is really a 2.
* Yet again we should have listened to Mr Hitchings “this audacious refashioning of Barrie’s masterpiece doesn’t truly fly.”
** Peter’s first appearance walking down the proscenium arch did remind Phil of Bert’s tap dance round the proscenium in the stage version of Mary Poppins.
Peter Pan is at the Barbican until 29th May and then visiting these places if you happen to possess a pair of infra-red night vision goggles: