While Peter Pan tends to see a revival or two every year about this time, most productions go for the all too familiar Disney version rather than the infinitely more nuanced original playtest of 1904. The current adaptation at The Park, takes this original, and reinvigorates it offering an intelligent yet ever playful alternative to the dated re-runs of Peter Pan we’re so used to seeing.
Barrie’s writing is as inscribed with domestic homely humanity as it is with fantastical magic, but each moment is entirely character driven which is where this production truly excels. The ensemble work sincerely and tenderly together creating the odd but loving family dynamics of the Darlings. Jason Kajdi is immediately likeable in his portrayal of the proud, boisterous John Darling, Adam Buchannan is goofy and has strong comic timing as the youngest of the clan Michael, and Rosemary Boyle effortlessly emanates the faux maternal instinct which drives Wendy. Adults playing children could fuel the urge to stick pins in ones eyes but on this occasion each performer has understood, neatly, the energy of childhood and manifested it lovingly.
The fact the cast all seem to be essentially in the same age range heightens the performativity of Barrie’s original story which is so much about role playing. Alexander Vlahos – of Versailles fame- so brilliantly imbues Mr Darling with a sharp frenetic energy which seamlessly updates the Wall Street father of 1904 to a young sexy banker type you’d definitely find on Liverpool Street – we forget immediately that he looks pretty much the same age as his daughter. Barrie asks us to suspend our disbelief all the time with his words, so it’s appropriate that Jonathan O’Boyle demands the same with his direction.
What’s so special about the story of Peter Pan is how ambiguous and complex it is. It’s a play about abandoned children seeking solace in children who’ve abandoned their parents. It’s peculiar but somehow familiar too. Given how many philosophical notions are at play here I felt a strong urge to see the darkest rawest version of the story unfold and yet I know we’d miss the flights and fancy were they not there.
Nickocolia King-N’Da embodies this complex paradox perfectly in his textured and captivating portrayal of our hero (or is he an anti-hero?) Peter Pan. He is excellent as Peter because of his unbreakable commitment to the idea he’s a child. He doesn’t do the pantomime bit of winking at the audience as if to say ‘I’m a grown man dressed as kid ha ha ha’ instead he allows the thematic complexities of Barrie’s text to speak and flow through him which, in turn, makes for an extremely honest performance of this little boy who is as free and full of joy as he is racked with a deep seated fear of abandonment.
King-N’Da and Boyle have a beautiful chemistry between them which reveals Barrie’s (I’d like to think) low-key feminist agenda in his creation of their relationship. The fact Peter genuinely doesn’t understand that a ‘lady’ could have priorities other than devoting herself to his care highlights that Barrie knew a little something about the emotional labour of women. Even in 1904!
Pan’s refusal to commit to a conventional life is both disturbing and electrifying. Would we all hold onto our youth if we could? Or is this just a phobia of commitment gone way too far? Barrie doesn’t provide an answer but rather leaves it in our hands to grapple with the subtext and that’s the beauty of this play which will strike a different chord for every member of the audience. Each night, it will be different for everyone, but there will undoubtedly be something for everyone too and that’s why it’s a perfect play for the family this winter.
Cast: Alexander Vlahos, Nickcolia King-N’Da, Rosemary Boyle, Adam Buchanan, Natalie Grady, Jason Kajdi, Harveen Mann, Alfie Webster. Director: Jonathan O’Boyle Writer: J.M.Barrie Venue: Park200, Park Theatre, Finsbury Park Dates: 6th December – 5th January 2019 Time: 7.30pm Duration: 2 hours approx. Age guidance: 5+ Tickets: www.parktheatre.co.uk / 020 7870 6876.