Review: Peter Pan - York Theatre Royal

JM Barrie’s classic Peter Pan is currently spreading its fairy dust over audiences at York Theatre Royal giving families the chance to enjoy theatre together apart from the annual pilgrimage to the theatre’s legendary pantomime – though there is a familiar panto face (and occasional skip) amongst the cast.

Cornelius McCarthy - Peter Pan
Photo by Karl Andre Photography
This is no pantomime though as the opening scene – which is out of keeping with the rest of the show – starkly reminds us. Here Peter Pan is less of a high-spirited kid, but more a cold calculating killer. Fortunately this gives way quickly and humour is allowed to enter proceedings.
However there is a great deal of contrast through the show which seems to fight with itself, not seemingly knowing where to pitch the tone. There are straight, slightly darker elements set against scenes of pure slapstick (usually provided by the quartet of bumbling pirates). Similarly interaction with the audience is confused. With the majority of the play being carried out in with no more than a passing nod towards the onlookers, it felt a little out of sorts when the audience were directly asked to help save Tinkerbell towards the end of the show.

Played out in the temporary in-the-round configuration that has been a trademark this season, the tale of the boy who refuses to grow up is brought to life via a mix of professional actors and local children who take on the pivotal roles of the Darling children as well as the lost boys, fairies and Indians. The title role is portrayed by professional adult actor Cornelius McCarthy, though his skilful performance allows you to accept he is the same age as the rest of his junior tribe and join him in the world of Neverland.
All the cast give great performances but credit must be given to the younger members who are often left alone on stage to carry the show forwards by themselves – and they don’t let anyone down. As for the professionals, Robert Pickavance stands out as Hook in a performance that has echoes of Jonathan Pryce.

Robert Pickavance - Hook
Photo by Karl Andre Photography
The clever set and costume design, which in the main avoids bright panto colours (with the notable exception of the crocodile) is brilliantly used as the action takes us from the Darling’s London home, to onboard ship and out and about in Neverland. Sound and lighting also deserve a big mention too. Christopher Madin’s score gives the production a wonderfully cinematic feel (though does mean the cast need to use mics in what is a quite an intimate space) where as lighting designer Richard G Jones pulls off a few neat tricks, especially when it comes to portraying the flighty Tinkerbell.
As in keeping with this season, a host of trap doors, things that come up from below the stage and other toys are employed getting the best out of the in-the-round stage. These are at their most effective during the flying scene where director Damian Cruden has skilfully sidestepped the circus trapeze approach to allows theatrical magic to take over instead.

Photo by Karl Andre Photography
One slight disappointment was the small number of children present in the audience at Saturday night’s performance. Whilst it is great that adults want to go to see the show themselves (after all there is a part in all of us that doesn’t want to grow up) it would be nice to enjoy the show with the energy that children bring to the audience which then impacts on the whole experience. But that is hardly the fault of the theatre.

Despite the reservations set out in this review, this is a fantastic piece of family entertainment with enough fun and visual gags to keep the young ‘uns happy but enough depth to engage more mature minds. A great way to spend a couple of hours during the summer holidays.

Peter Pan is at York Theatre Royal until 3rd September

Review by James Eaglesfield