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Peter Pan, the Musical 

by on 15 January 2023

Flights of Fancy

Peter Pan, the Musical 

by Piers Chater Robison, based on J.M. Barrie

Step on Stage at Hampton Hill Theatre until 14th January

Review by Thea Diamond

What an absolute joy to have seen Step on Stage’s production of Peter Pan.  For those not in the know, Step on Stage is one of the Richmond borough’s popular youth theatre companies, with students ranging in age from 5 to 21 years.  Directed and produced by Emma Louise Tiniswood with assistance from Jasmin Carmody, this was the last night of their sell-out four-show run, which ended with, not only the end of show speeches and presentations to the crew, musicians and back stage helpers, but the young cast’s obvious emotional finale and farewell to what had clearly become a close-knit community over the months of rehearsing together.  Step on Stage describe themselves as a family, as this was very evident in the interactions between all members of the cast, from the youngest to the older actors where their comradery and friendship shone through. 

This musical adaptation by Piers Chater Robison is based on the well-known original play by JM Barrie of the boy who would not grow up, and who entices the Darling children to fly away with him to Neverland, where Wendy mothers the Lost Boys and they encounter pirates and Peter’s arch enemy Captain Hook.  Themes such as the journey to adulthood from childhood through adolescence are explored, and the effect of parent-child relationships and childhood imagination in this transition.  The complex navigation of these themes and emotions were touchingly conveyed throughout between Wendy (Freya Peltonen) and Peter (Ivor Duke) starting with the beautiful duet “Come Away” when they begin forging their connection, through to the ending scenes when Wendy faces the realisation that Peter cruelly refuses to grow up and playing father to her mother is no more than make-belief.  Freya conveys Wendy’s devastation in “Why” with deep and raw emotion for one so young, whilst Ivor expresses Peter’s seething anger at her idealistic expectations, switching effortlessly from his enthusiastic boyish charm.   Finally, the harmonies between the pair in “Don’t Say Goodbye” provide an emotional climax to the show’s ending.  In a later scene, Ivor confidentially encourages audience participation in joining the song “You Gotta Believe” (in fairies) in order to revive Tinkerbelle who has taken Hook’s poison to save Peter. 

However, it is not only Peter and Wendy and the other principal characters who provide beautifully performed song after song – we are treated to whole ensemble pieces which are precisely performed by the company reflecting the creative talents of choreographer Ashley Johnson.  The scene is set in the nursery of the Darling Family at bedtime and we are introduced to the cantankerous Mr Darling (Callum Arthurs) and nurturing Mrs Darling (Lilia Liebrand).  The first song “The Darlings” is performed with accompanying dance routine, which gives a taster of the wide variety of dance numbers to come.  Musical Director Emma Louise Tiniswood is joined by the rest of the accomplished live band, Bryon Cox and Jules Cowie. 

Here we first meet Peter and Tinkerbell whose whimsical fairy tale costumes are in stark contrast to The Darlings’ prim and proper attire.  This is the first of many scenes featuring the mischievous and mute Tinkerbell (Rosie Gonzalez-Penny) who achieves the challenging feat of expressively communicating through her body language and facial expressions throughout the scenes. 

On arrival in Neverland, we encounter the Lost Boys in their hideout, which is conveyed through effective yet simple staging, including atmospheric lighting effects (by Jack Hathaway).  No detail is spared in their costumes, with their ripped clothes and scruffy and unkempt hair being accessorised by tribal make-up, bone and seed necklaces and bright tropical feathers in their hair.  This ensemble included a wide range of ages who impressively all kept in character through their scenes and clearly enjoyed performing together as a group.  This was particularly evident in “Wendy’s Song” and “We’re going Home” which were accompanied by jazzy choreography without a step out of place.  Again, later on in the story, the full range of physical sizes are made full use of when the Lost Boys are joined by Tiger Lilly (Rosie Campbell)) and her mother (Emily Hill-Kelly) performing “Braces to War” where impressive gymnastics culminate in forming a human pyramid.

Particular mention must be made of Jasper Simmons’ effortless portrayal of Captain Hook, who clearly relishes this role and camps it up delightfully.  He leads his motley crew of pirates, including Smee (Tilly Cooke), with aplomb and is thrilled about Peter’s demise in his flamboyant performance of “Goodbye Peter Pan”.  They fantastically and effortlessly swashbuckle through their scenes and musical numbers, with “Rich Damp Cake” being particularly memorable in its enthusiastic singing and dancing.  Again, the costume department have excelled with the gang’s renaissance styling, and who are suitably attired in frilly shirts, bodices, and buckled boots.  Hook’s magnificent wig with tricorn hat and grand ostrich feather are matched with swords and cutlasses from the prop department which are put to good use in a well choreographed sword fight scene (directed by Will Bannister).  The pirate ship is cleverly recreated with masts, sails and the Jolly Roger flag, and Hook’s terrifying crocodile nemesis is effectively comically incorporated by the smallest cast member peddling across the stage in a small green go-cart which adds a humorous touch in juxtaposition to Hook’s petrified reaction.    

It was clear from start to finish that a huge amount of thought and commitment had gone into this production – not only the acting, singing and dancing, but importantly the devil was in the detail with all elements of the production being thoroughly considered.  Full attention had been paid to the children’s costumes, hair, make up and props by the production team and parents behind the scenes.  Often these elements of the whole production can be overlooked when working with such a large company of young performers who maybe inexperienced in realising the impact on the audience of all details in a show.  However, not one child entered the stage with part of their costume missing or a misplaced prop – all had their hair and make-up fully in character for their part.   All in all, this was a very accomplished and polished production of this literary classic. 

Thea Diamond, January 2023

Photography by Enzo Dobbie

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