Peter and Wendy
A Caledonian Pan with puppets
This article is from 2009.
Perhaps the weightiest problem that confronted Mabou Mines in bringing this long-established production (first conceived in the mid-80s and running for 14 years) to Edinburgh was the issue of how many tons of coal Newcastle could take. Putting up a significantly Celticised Peter Pan in the country of its author’s origin is fraught with the dangers of a patronising kind of imperialism for a US company, and it should be said from the outset that this production doesn’t entirely escape the charge. There’s a touch of the Braveheart about the whole affair that leaves one feeling a little cringey.
That said, this collaborative effort under the direction of Lee Breuer, using less of the play and more of the prose version of Barrie’s classic, features some splendidly affecting moments. A certain emphasis early on is placed upon Mrs Darling’s sense of loss around Wendy before the girl’s adventures in Neverland with Peter, so that our consciousness of the rites of passage explored in the play is constantly informed by the cost to parents of children entering into adulthood. Beyond that, it’s pretty much the Tiger Lily, Crocodile and Hook story you’d expect, with the piece entirely enacted through puppetry, with the exception of Karen Kandel’s very human and multi-faceted narrator.
Kandel’s performance is an astonishing sight to behold, with the voices of every character issuing from her, all accompanied by a physical performance of impressive dexterity and energy. If the Scots accents are a touch Rumanian/English/Fijian in places, somewhat unnecessarily shattering the illusion (who would have cared if she’d sounded like a New Yorker?), there is still so much to admire in this performance that it is worth the admission alone. So, too, there’s an enchanting folk score from the late Johnny Cunningham to enjoy, with Susan McKeown’s vocals adding a lovely, haunting quality, and Julie Archer’s enjoyable design seamlessly blending a child’s bedroom with various fabrics that manifest themselves as everything from ships to dogs.
But if you’re looking to this production to break any new ground, you might be disappointed. The awful move into adulthood, which leaves us all longing for the liberation we experienced in our childhood imaginations is still there, as is the sense of good and evil rendered ambivalent as much by Hook’s egotistical frailty as Peter’s occasional cruelty. Yet, somehow it feels as if a little more needs to be done on Barrie’s home patch to make this version stand out from the many others we see in Scotland.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, 473 2000, until 5 Sep, 7.30pm (mat 5 Sep, 2.30pm), £10–£25.