Review – Peter Pan, Barbican Theatre

Thursday 20 May 2010

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.

Two out of Five: slightly corked or vinegary


* 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:

Eden Court, Inverness
01/06/2010 – 05/06/2010
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
08/06/2010 – 12/06/2010
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
15/06/2010 – 19/06/2010


14 Responses to “Review – Peter Pan, Barbican Theatre”

  1. webcowgirl Says:

    Really, some nights it is better to just stay at home.

    • Imogen Says:

      Totally agree with this review. Saw it tonight and had high hopes but it was awful. Bizarre and confusing with inappropriate levels of agression and violence. Half the audience was under 10, some as young as 3 and a muscular Peter Pan attacking a teddy with a dagger isn’t my idea of appropriate or acceptable. Dull, gloomy and whatever new perspective they were trying to give on the story (if any) was totally incomprehensible.

      I like most plays that I go and see, even amateur ones, so this was very disappointing.

  2. Gari Says:

    I’ve yet to see a good production of Peter Pan, which is a jolly sad state of affairs. I think it’s one of the best pieces of literature to come out of this country but yet I’ve seen nothing but duff adaptations and had hoped for much better from this one (*may* have been swayed by those posters of Kevin Guthrie…)

    Your half a review idea did make me chortle though 😉

  3. helensmith Says:

    It has always been my dream to write a lipogrammatic novel. Perhaps ‘Oulipo! The Musical’ is a concept we could explore together?

    I didn’t think you’d make me laugh out loud twice in one day but I have just checked back here and seen your new logo. Marvellous.

  4. Exit, Pursued by a Bear Says:

    Ooooh, the Whingers actually had to pay for a ticket! No wonder the review was bad.

  5. “most”, yes. but not ALL.

    How do they maintain such objectiveness when being offered freebies by the management. Answer: they don’t.

    Its called “selling out”.

  6. The Barbican press office has been pushing the ‘no bloggers’ policy for at least five years now. I remember a call I made back in 2005 that was met with exactly the same response as the one you paraphrase above. I wonder if there’s not a placard in the office that reads ‘blogs are bad’. But that can’t be right because the Barbican runs many blogs of its own, so someone somewhere must see ‘value’ in this blogging business.

    But you can see the dilemma, the National Press represents a finite number of people, a figure that can be factored into the accounts. It’s also backed by a code of ethics and a recognizable review model that operates on a few controllable variables: good, bad or mediocre. All in all, the risk factor is bearable.

    Bloggers on the other hand are an indeterminate mass, an unpredictable motley crew floating around in cyberspace – or at least it’s easy to construe them as such. And if you let one blogger in, shouldn’t you let them all in? And if you don’t let them all in, what are your criteria for selection? Blog traffic? Page rank? Retweets? Facebook likes? Level of praise and enthusiasm in the comment section? How do you determine the ROI of a blog review?

    Phil may have set something of a small precedent here. I’m sure he’s not the first blogger to wangle a comp from the Barb, but it’s rare to see that admission printed in the public domain. Perhaps other bloggers can quote the Whingers’ ‘Peter Pan case’ for future ticket requests…

    Seriously though, hasn’t the time come for a review of that ‘policy’? Or if not, then at the very least a clear indication of what the policy actually says about bloggers. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Barbican and the work they do, and I go there regularly, but I’d love it more if I knew what the deal was.

  7. Woody Says:

    Allowing Hook to fly is like giving Lex Luther superpowers, it just doesn’t work. Tiger Lily dies… Fair enough when she is two half half human half wolf ex-nursemaids. And the bit where Peter alone says he believes in her? If he’d have asked the audience to join in they’d have thrown bottles of water onto the stage.

    • Ian Shuttleworth Says:

      The night I went, the audience spontaneously started shouting that they too believed. To be fair, Peter’s endless repetition made it seem as if he were fishing for such a response.

      I was neither over- nor underwhelmed, just sort of… whelmed. It strikes me that what Greig has done is take a text about the difficulties of growing from childhood to adulthood and make it a play about the difficulties of negotiating puberty and adolescence, which is a significantly different proposition and one that in current culture has no room for romanticism or fantasy of the kind that shape Barrie’s vision.

  8. […] to make it seem like Scotland very rarely sees the sun (No sun in the UK? Really?), something that West End Whingers seem to dislike slightly. I, on the other hand, loved the effect this had. The colour palette and […]

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