Peter Pan, like pantomime, is something I associate with Christmas so it felt very unseasonal crossing Paris in balmy sunshine to a theatre heaving with excited kids and parents. My mid-teen guests looked ancient in comparison but pleaded to come, having grown up with the pirates, lost boys and Hollywood spin-offs of J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play.
Irina Brook’s production deploys all her hallmark strengths to charm the audience. Her cast is young, energetic and cosmopolitan, enjoying itself and wanting to please. Her cocktail of acrobatics, rock, ironic asides and Shakespearean sprinklings has something for everyone.
And, as ever, she uses ordinary objects with extraordinary creativity to tickle the imagination. A wooden pallet serves as bed, dance floor, rocky island and gangplank. Soap bubbles conjure up submarine depths alongside a feisty mermaid. Cutlery provides percussion and the canoes are cardboard.
So if it ticks so many boxes, why doesn’t this show soar skywards like Peter? One reason is the staging. Farid Ayelem Rahmouni’s clever, stylish choreography feels cramped in a static set framed by an underused pirate ship and carousel.
The flying scene is pure poetic grace but over in a flash. Arnaud Jung’s lighting is uncharacteristically harsh, missing opportunities to add suspense, dreaminess or poignancy to key scenes.
Another reason is the adaptation. The over-literal start and finish feel underpowered and perfunctory, though later scenes have more originality. The production is packed with laughs but skirts round the play’s darker emotional contours – the reason Barrie’s work hit a psychological nerve and has stood the test of time. Sadie Jemmett’s music included witty reworking of familiar nursery rhymes but underused the cast’s strengths as chorus.
The most charismatic performances came from Nuno Roque’s John, camp worshipper of the royal family, Diego Asensio’s Smee and twins Kehinde and Taiwo Awaiye. Louison Lelarge – only 18 and still at circus school – bravely played an unusual Pan as leaping satyr.
Georges Corraface’s likeable Hook was more leader of the goons than villain (the crocodile hardly gets time to stretch its jaws). The weakest link, unfortunately, was Elisabet Ferrer’s Wendy with a maddeningly squeaky voice and lacking crucial stage presence.