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Wendy & Peter Pan at Royal Shakespeare Theatre - Review

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Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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Superior Unmissable Version Of Children's Tale
Are you ready for an awfully big adventure?

Well, strap in and hold tight as this magical, innovative adaptation of Peter Pan by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will take you to Neverland on a more meaningful and sentimental journey than other versions of the classic children's tale.

Wendy and Peter Pan, RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Magical scenes in the innovative, exciting Wendy and Peter Pan by the RSC. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Wendy and Peter Pan is Ella Hickson's version of the JM Barrie adventure that won acclaim when it debuted two years ago at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. It's back at the same theatre for Christmas and although it seems very similar, it has returned with updates that seem to make it more child-friendly and jovial.

Set in the early 1900s, Hickson has taken the basis of the children's story and modernised it with a touch of feminism and links with the Suffragette movement.

Headstrong but slightly neurotic Wendy is now firmly at the centre of the action alongside Peter - but rather than following him blindly, she starts to question the role of women to always be mother rather than captain or adventurer after she is transported to Neverland and expected to be nursemaid to the Lost Boys.

Wendy and Peter Pan, RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Christmas shows, Stratford upon Avon, Ella Hickson
Peter Pan with Tink in the RSC's Wendy And Peter Pan. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Turning the usual damsel in distress story on it's head, Peter Pan ends up tied to a mast and relying on girl power to save his bacon. It's refreshing to see other strong females in the form of hilarious mouthy and sarcastic fairy Tink (a fabulous Charlotte Mills returning to the role) and wise fighter Tiger Lily.

Wendy's gripes, like much of the witty script, are aimed at the adults in the audience but don't detract from the adventure for children in the crowd. There's plenty of finely choreographed sword fights, larger than life pirates and comedy scenes involving the quirky Lost Boys to keep even the youngest enthralled.

The sets in this production are impressively grandiose. Actors fly around stage, the floor opens up to reveal Pan's underground den and there's even a life-size Jolly Roger pirate ship that sails on to set. It couldn't be more breathtaking.

Wendy and Peter Pan, RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Mimi Ndiweni as Tiger Lily and Mariah Gale as Wendy in Wendy and Peter Pan from the RSC.

But the most inventive prop is the crocodile - portrayed by extremely lithe actor Arthur Kyeyune. Donned in a top hat, pocket watch and with spookily pale yellow eyes, he contorts himself into shapes that make him seem just like the reptile.

Added to the visual exuberance of Wendy & Peter Pan is an air of sentimentality and purpose to Wendy's journey. The first part of the play opens in the Darling family's Edwardian home where the youngest child, Tom, develops a cold and dies.

This death prompts Wendy to find out if Tom is now a Lost Boy while also putting pressure on the parents, who endure similar arguments to Peter Pan and Wendy in carefully constructed scenes that show a parallel between the two relationships.

It's poignant and sophisticated within the larger bubble of fun and is what makes this production so sophisticated.

Wendy and Peter Pan, RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Action and sentimentality makes Wendy and Peter Pan such a special production.

Sprightly Mariah Gale this time takes on the lead role as Wendy and is hugely impressive and beguiling throughout. Rhys Rusbatch as Peter has a charm about him, but not as much presence as Gale or James Corrigan and Jordan Metcalfe, who play Wendy's brothers.

Darrell D'Silva brings old school rogueness to the role of Captain Hook. There's a twinkle in his eye that makes him more dastardly than frightening. His relationship with sidekick Smee (Paul Kemp) is a real delight and highlight in terms of the comedy in the play.

Wendy & Peter Pan leaves other versions of the JM Barrie story in the shade. It's funny, comforting, emotional and full of depth and that makes it one of the best Christmas shows you can see. You'd be a fool to miss it.

Rating: 9/10

Wendy and Peter Pan
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
17 November 2015 31 January 2016

Suitable for ages 7 and above.

Tickets cost from 5 from the RSC website.
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Why? Magical, superior play based on Peter Pan
When: Until January 31, 2016
Phone: 01789 403493
Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From 5
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