Wendy and Peter Pan
Hayward Theatre, Friday 10th December 2021.
“Another year, yet another coronavirus variant. Having worked our way through Alpha, Beta and Delta during the last two years, Omicron has worked out in just the last couple of weeks how to be yet more efficiently infectious than its predecessors. Yet notwithstanding test validations, one-way systems, masks and open ventilation, King’s has proved triumphantly how sheer determination and enthusiasm can win against the odds. We were treated to the most amazing night of enthralling entertainment and talented acting, magical escapism with thought-provoking undertones: something in fact for every age and disposition.
“As his envoi to the school, Nick Huntington’s production of Wendy and Peter Pan showed appropriately what a superb envoy (pun intended) he has been for drama and theatre throughout his time at King’s. Why he had chosen this particular play to round off his time here became increasingly apparent as it unfolded. With Ella Hickson’s superb script so securely under the belts of the cast, the comedy was delivered with huge skill and impressive maturity by this cast of Years 9 -11. However, there were also themes only just under the surface that provided additional substance and pleasure for anyone spotting and then looking out for them.
An example might be the balance provided by the parallelism featured in the adaptation by Hickson of JM Barrie’s plot and characterisation. By creatively enlarging the female characters of the novel, Hickson offsets the three Darling brothers with the three girls, Wendy, Tink (Arabella Guyer) and Tiger-Lily (Olivia Williams), who are provided with fuller characters and greater prominence. Wendy (Polly Casey on Friday night), whilst resenting that the boys have all the fun, is the carer, the mother-figure, sensible and responsible, and in remaining constant in her quest for her dead brother Tom, discovers that she does possess the strength of character to come to terms (within the play’s framework) with his death. Tink is the magnificently loud, sassy, care-free, live-in-the-moment, fun girl and Tiger-Lily is a fighter, tough, athletic, physical. On the other scales we have alpha male John (played by Alexander New), confident in his sense of entitlement as the oldest, on the cusp of adolescence and visibly turning into his father; then comes Michael (Finlay Beeton), nerdy, obsessed with and fascinated by science and unfazed by his older brother’s physical superiority; and lastly the sickly young Tom (Eden Hewitt), the baby of the family and a natural charmer. All were portrayed with consistency and conviction despite being dealt a poorer hand from the writer.
“Another feature of interest was the connection between London and Neverland. Rufus Froy as Captain Hook, resplendent with full wig and glinting hook, thoroughly relished his villainous role. He also played Mr Darling, indicating that his patriarchal role in the family was similarly suspect, without the playwright having to labour the point. Mr Darling’s deafness to his wife’s complaints and resorting to alcohol were marks of his weakness, despite the outward trappings of a suited man of the city. Hook, for all his tyrannical bravado, likewise showed his weakness in his fear of the crocodile. Likewise, Opher Gate was Mrs Darling, manager of the household and assumed well-dressed accompaniment to her husband until she could no longer fulfil the social duty expected of her due to her grief at Tom’s death; she was also the superbly comic pirate Smee, Hook’s side-kick. Opher is a real talent, whose face as Smee was an absolute joy to watch. Both she and Rufus are to be congratulated for inhabiting their switching roles so successfully.
“Shakespeare has often received this treatment: think Theseus/ Oberon and Hippolyta/ Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And just as in that play, the magical world of the Wood is contrasted with but also informs the real world of Athens, so too here do make-believe Neverland and mid 20th century London. The prime mover in the alternative worlds is Puck/ Peter Pan, the irresistible but dangerously irresponsible fairy, played on Friday night by William Hutton. What a mesmerising performer he is: never still, lithely acrobatic, vain, swaggering while also intensely vulnerable, as all children must be. William commanded the stage with total confidence. As with Opher and Arabella, his comic timing was brilliant.
“Time was a major theme of the plot, represented by the slithering movements of Bethan Prichard as a wonderful crocodile whose swallowed alarm clock was a symbol of the inevitable passing of time. Childhood cannot last, however much we might wish it to. Human beings cannot escape growing up or death in the real world and grief is something we all have to come to terms with. Sometimes it is children who teach adults how to do this, as Wendy at the end showed her mother how to laugh and be happy in a play-fight with the boys’ wooden swords – without forgetting Tom. A moment of pure joy and happiness in magic or belief has a healing property, as Peter explained to Wendy, even though he wasn’t as strong as she was in leaving Neverland.
“This production was more than just a moment of happiness. It was fizzing with joy and laughter throughout. The video backdrops were spectacular in creating the high seas and pirate ship and the lush, colourful world of an exotic, Eden-like Neverland. Shadows and Fireflies (Zion Noble, Edith Thomson, Lola Wade-Gledhill, Ivy Trueman, Anna Kurochkina and Danielle Viljoen) flitted gracefully and added to the atmosphere with skilful lighting, while Rose Tisi, Lola Wade-Gledhill, Gracie Livingstone Bond, Charlotte Senior, Angie Lai, Sienna Burley, Tia Glenister and Edith Thomson swelled the ranks of the pirates (fighting included) as well as performing as Shadows.
“Wendy persuaded her Neverland Spice Girls, Tink and Tiger Lily, that they had to work as a team if they were going to beat the pirates. The Wendy and Peter Pan actors, stage crew, make-up, costumes, props, fight and movement directors, set painters and technical crew certainly played as a team. Too many were involved back stage, front of house and on sound/lighting for individual mention, but without all their massive hard work, skill, united cooperation and vision this play could not have been the success it undoubtedly was. Our thanks go to all for their commitment and professionalism in the entire undertaking.
“Tick, tock. Time cannot stand still, as the play made clear, and it is sadly time for Nick Huntington to move on. His productions at King’s have been outstanding, but this could not have been achieved without all the groundwork he put in place in the day-to-day running of his department. Wendy and Peter Pan was an utter delight and proved the magical power of great theatre to transport us to places beyond our imaginings. Thank you, Nick, and our very best wishes go with you.”
Review by former Head of English at King’s Ely, Charlotte Dean.
Images by Old Elean, Toby Roney.