Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
The Lost Boys of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan become the Doomed Tommies of the trenches in this tender adaptation of the children’s classic. This version opens with Nurse Wendy reading the tale of the boy who never grew up to a bandaged serviceman in a makeshift military hospital who knows a bit too well what it means to be an adult. The transition between this stirring setting – resurrected as part of a host of events to commemorate the centenary of the First World War – and the phantasmagorical world that Pan inhabits is seamless.
Sam Angell crashes onto the stage like David Tennant riding a sugar high and spirits the story away to Never Never Land. While the soldiers regress to the innocence of youth, the set remains resolutely rusty. Even Tinker Bell, a squarking desk lamp with matchbox feet, is closer to a character from PC game Machinarium than an ethereal being. Mermaids are magicked from gas masks and corrugated iron and the actors fly around the outdoor auditorium on very visible pulleys, tugged with impeccable timing by fellow cast members, while floorboards flap and snap in a reptilian fashion below.
None of this detracts from the fantasy and the general silliness of Barrie’s tale, which was lapped up by the younger audience members. Concerned as I was by the grim opening, this is very much a family affair that deals with its darker elements on a gentle, human level. There are echoes of the poetry of Wilfred Owen in Wendy’s suggestion that “your mothers would want you to die like English gentleman”, which is walking the plank in this case – quite a literal interpretation of going over the top – singing God Save the King.
Its Lost Boys have the unenviable task of portraying both war-torn soldiers and excitable young lads looking for adventure and a jolly good game of rugger. They don’t quite pull it off, which was visibly confusing to some of the younger children watching, and tilted some of the more immature jokes into uncomfortable Carry On territory.
All the slapstick and stunts, however, were carried off with real verve and Dennis Herdman puts in a scene-stealing performance as Hook, played as a brilliant hammy cross between General Melchett and Basil Fawlty.It’s so much fun, you’ll barely notice the clock tick-tocking at all.