Sunday, 2 December 2018

REVIEW: Peter Pan - The Duke's Theatre, Lancaster.


Well it’s that time of year again – it’s Panto season [insert audience participation phrases here]. As the nights draw in and the temperature plummets, what could be more heart warming than a tale of good triumphing over evil, the basis for any and perhaps all traditional pantomime tales. Peter Pan at The Dukes Theatre Lancaster is no exception. Peter Pan tells the tale of the boy who never grew up, and whilst it was lovely to see so many youngsters enjoying the spectacle, there were certainly a number of adults finding their inner child as we were treated to a spectacular journey from Wendy’s flat, all the way to Neverneverland and back again.

The Dukes is always able to bring up to date the traditional pantomime, and the tale of Peter Pan uses family separation as a way to reach many children who may find the festive season a challenge. We realise within the first few opening moments, that this up to date, modern version begins on Christmas Eve, with the surprising revelation that Wendy, her mother and her brothers will be spending Christmas dinner together, joined by their father and his new partner referred to as ‘Fish Face'. The discomfort and torment facing the Mother is clear, and Wendy’s ‘childish’ reaction strikes an uncomfortable chord amongst the audience. Enter Pan and Tink, to lighten the mood.

Year on year the company at The Dukes never fails to disappoint, and this is not the first Christmas production I have had the privilege of seeing. I am always amazed at how the cast and staging team are able to pull off such a feat of festive musical magic with such a small cast, and staging ingenuity. There are just 5 cast members who play in total 20 or more roles, from excitable ‘real’ children to ‘Lost Boys’, pirates and all sorts in between. The cast is superbly aided by two or three stage hands, who are suitably dressed as cast members so as not to distract from the action. The stage hands interweave amongst the action to change the set seamlessly and with such impressive imagination. Whilst there is little in terms of the actual set itself, you can absolutely imagine the surroundings with the help of minimal props and some staging. This is especially well executed whilst on board Captain Hook’s pirate ship ‘The Jolly Roger’. Whilst discussing staging, I must also mention the very clever way in which Tink is both seen and heard, with a skilful use of lighting, and physical presence from the actors coming into contact with the spritely fairy. On the subject of sound and lighting, Tink’s voice is achieved through the use of voice effect, and sounds effects are generally used well to enhance the performance. One criticism perhaps is the use of mics during songs. As the performance is set in the round, and due to the intimate nature of the theatre, I felt the use of mics was unnecessary and at times made it difficult to listen to the lyrics.

As always with these productions at The Dukes, I must commend the cast. The way in which the cast are able to transform not only the set but themselves too, in order to play numerous roles, is commendable. And whilst the cast members are easily recognisable as other characters, they do their upmost to disguise themselves with clever costumes, and an array of accents. I particularly enjoyed Wendy’s many transformations as she uses accents to great effect.

A particular highlight for me was most certainly the spellbinding journey to Neverneverland, and where Pan and Wendy use silks to imitate the flight sequence. Both actors looked at ease using the silks, and created some wonderful poses, moving elegantly and effortlessly from one pose to the next. Pan also makes fabulous use of ropes, being lowered from the upper part of the stage onto the floor, to show flight in slow motion. Gareth Morgan portrays this brilliantly with an array of facial expressions, which the younger audience certainly appreciated. Our journey through to The Mermaid’s Lagoon was suggested with the use of bubble machines, and you could see both young and old alike mesmerised by the bubbles – some even trying to catch and pop them! This production certainly brings out your inner child.

There are also some particularly heart-warming moments. Wendy has a beautiful song, all about her mother, whom she knows will love her no matter what, and whilst singing about snuggles and cuddling up, you could see families shuffle ever closer together. This really brought a true festive family feel to the evening. Actress Helen Longworth portrays a mother torn between providing her children with ‘The Best Christmas Ever’ and trying to please everyone in a reconstituted family. The final scene between her and Pan (whom she thinks is actually Wendy beneath the covers) is particularly touching and brings home the reality of the challenges many parents may face over the festive period. The way in which The Dukes challenges tradition means difficult questions can be discussed and non-stereotypical Christmas scenarios be accepted.

This show is packed with magic and meaning, and it is certainly not one to be missed. It’ll warm your cockles over the cold winter nights, so throw on your Christmas jumper, practice your panto participation lines and get yourself a ticket or two – you won’t be disappointed.

Peter Pan runs Friday 23rd November to Saturday 5th January.

Reviewer - Jen O’Beirne 
on - 30/11/18

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