Chester Storyhouse enters into the Christmas spirit full blast with this first-class adaptation of an old classic, Peter Pan. The aerial feats are absolutely amazing (balanced by the characters’ frequent descents below stage), as is the entire design, exquisitely realised via setting, music and costume. What’s not to like, especially having Tinker Bell upgraded to virtually partnering Peter Pan and Captain Hook played by a woman.
It is good to see that the cast includes trainee actors, such as George Bellamy, contributing nicely as John, and Catrin Jones’ amusingly silly Tootles. Charlotte Gosling has recently graduated and sinks her teeth into making a pretty good meal (deal…) of Nana, if not given quite enough to do as Tiger Lily, leader of the Hunters. It is also the professional debut of Georgia Jackson in one of the main roles as Wendy, and a sterling effort as the heroine, sensible, resourceful and brave. Then we get seasoned actors: Neal Craig, switching between down-to-earth Mr Darling and Hook’s pirate side-kick, nutty Noodler, and Imogen Slaughter. She puts in a virtuoso turn, from harassed, caring Mum to flamboyant Hook: posh, cowardly, cunning and heartless. However, a shame there’s no mention of the little boy who played Mikey – he was a delight, delivering his few lines with considerable panache.
The Peter Pan is played by James Phoon as a sort of Boy Band lead singer, magnificent quiff et al, just, only just, rescuing him from being highly irritating, especially the arrogance and sneakiness, through his energy and enthusiasm. But Carlie Enoch pips him to the post (again, only just) with a spirited performance as Tinker Bell (although somewhat annoyingly needy), a sulky, sarcastic teen who turns out to be basically kindhearted. Pretty in pink, decked out with all kinds of embellishments, she proudly calls herself a literally magic fairy, only to have somebody describe her as ‘a hen party’.
A couple of quibbles: dinosaurs being shoehorned in, but mostly in that an update undermines one of the main plot developments; no way these days that parents would dream of leaving young children on their own, even for an hour. But never mind, there are so many neat touches, such as the comedy and staging, particularly the scene with three slides at the back where each particular Neverland group comes whooshing through in turn, apart from the Merfolk, who are represented by an excellent band, in full Glamour mode.
Storyhouse has always done children’s shows proud, and what a good balance, allowing for some visitors being very young so not too many scary bits. Also, maybe because no great emphasis on audience participation, huge balloons being batted back and forth between cast and audience went down very well – and up again. But above all, everybody wholeheartedly clapping hands to save Tinker Bell, and a very clever dig at social media, because sometimes something hashtag just doesn’t work.
Chester Storyhouse has deservedly earned itself a host of positive reviews, so here’s another one: if you and your family fancy hitting the heights at Christmas, yet again, this is the place to be for Peter Pan.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good