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Peter Pan

by on 12 April 2023

Pan Cakes

Peter Pan

by Chris Cuming,  adapted from J.M.Barrie

Reading Rep at Reading Rep Theatre until 29th April

Review by Nick Swyft

Curtain up and the music starts, and I thought this is going to be great.  The music mixed sinister with magical to just the right degree.  Added to which just about anything by J.M.Barrie is sure to be good, and I remember being enthralled by the world he creates in Peter Pan from a young age.

I was there with a selection of grandchildren, and was keen to find out if they reacted the way I did.  The problem with children is that when questioned by adults, they tend to clam up, but you can always tell at the end if they really enjoyed it or not.  All I got when I asked what they thought of it was a dutiful ‘good!’, so maybe I didn’t ask the right questions.  It was nevertheless a good night out for them.

Part of Reading Rep’s growing reputation is that it is now able to attract professional actors from all over the country who add weight to any performance.

Marley Lockhart’s performance as Peter Pan was extremely convincing.  Having played in CBBC’s Jake in the Millie Show and in Bugsy Malone, he brought a wealth of experience to the child role.  Also, Holly Burns, making her professional debut playing Wendy, was ideal as the big sister thrust into a maternal role by the boys.

Maybe the casting of Jak Ford Lane as Mr Darling and Joe Swift as his son Michael wasn’t the best decision.  For one thing Joe Swift was taller and had a beard!  I think he would also have made a great Hook.   As it was, Hook was played by Amy Ambrose which gave more of a kids TV feel to the role.

In the end I wasn’t sure what this performance was trying to be.  Was it panto or a play?  Was it for kids, or more for grown-ups?  There seemed to be a lack of self-confidence about this coming from the narration, which was overdone and almost felt a bit preachy.  ‘All children, except one, grow up’ is the keystone of the story, but they seemed to be suggesting that Peter Pan should grow up too, rather than treasuring his childish imagination, which we could all do with more of.

The director Chris Cuming had a hard path to navigate between the demands of a story, some elements of which might be considered inappropriate these days, and modern theatre constraints.  Maybe remembering that kids actually like to be frightened to some degree, might have helped.

All that said, there were some truly magical moments.  The best was made of the Tinkerbell character, represented as a number of pin torches carefully choreographed so that it looked as if she was flitting across the stage.  They were all switched on when she was revived by everyone’s belief in fairies, even sending a few shivers down the spine.  Peter Pan losing his shadow is potentially a theatrical nightmare.  Way back, when I first saw Peter Pan, it was an old pair of tights.  Here it was a clever mirror image.

It’s fitting that Reading Rep ends its ten-year anniversary season with a play about a ten-year old boy.  It continues to provide inspiration to local people to get into theatre, providing great opportunities to work alongside professional actors.

Nick Swyft, April 2023

Photography by Harry Elletson

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