Forget the tight-clad sprite from the Disney movie. The Peter Pan in the National Theatre of Scotland’s inspired new version is a fit, bare-chested feral boy, whose tousled hair rises to hornlike peaks on his forehead, calling to mind both Pan and Narnia’s Mr Tumnus. Kevin Guthrie invests him with charisma and adolescent rebelliousness and makes a spectacular first entrance by striding down the wall.
And this is a rich, dark retelling of the tale in which Neverland is studded with troubling issues from real life. Playwright David Greig, seizing on J. M. Barrie’s Scottish background, sets his adaptation in Victorian Edinburgh. Here Mr Darling is an engineer on the Forth Railway Bridge. The young lads at work on the bridge become the Lost Boys in Neverland: homeless and starved of maternal love. The precariousness of life in Victorian times feeds into the tug-of-war between childhood and adulthood that drives the story.
Greig’s drama is full of troubling insights. Here, as the crocodile pursues Captain Hook, the ticking clock terrifies him as much as the gaping jaws. And as Peter battles with Hook, a tattooed hard man (Cal MacAninch), you feel the boy is physically fending off the man he dreads becoming. Wendy (Kirsty Mackay) is feisty and reluctant to play mother, but troubled by the way Peter makes her feel. Questions about time and loss swirl around.
John Tiffany directs a vigorous, muscular production on Laura Hopkins’ rust-coloured set. Tinkerbell is a flaming little ball of fire, zipping through the air. Musical director Davey Anderson shapes the atmosphere with sea shanties and ballads. The narrative plods occasionally and some ideas fall flat: Tiger Lily reconceived as a bizarre she-wolf, for instance. And the lighting is frustratingly dim. But this Peter Pan brings a glittering dark twist to a familiar tale. () www.barbican.org.uk
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