There must be little more that can raise the
spirits of young or old than the idea of flying free through the skies. And
this production of
You can do a lot worse than letting go of everything and climbing under the comfort blanket of this thoroughly enjoyable flight to Neverland.
This is quite a traditional take on a story we now probably know more as a vehicle for thigh-slapping, cross-dresssing panto – and is a pleasantly comforting experience for being so. There are enough clever tricks to bring out the child in the adult and enough joshing about to amuse the real child – whilst subtly treat them as an adult too. Paul Hilton is a spiky haired, green suited wide boy of a Pan – a grumpy 30-something who veers on making what is actually quite a dislikable arrogant character a bore. And Madeleine Worrall's Wendy isn't as sensible as one might think – showing a bubbling jealousy and anger towards her brothers and being very forward in wanting to kiss Peter and play a (very elongated) game of Mothers and Fathers throughout. There's a very grown up innocence in both.
The triumph here is in the ensemble who we first really see as characters when the players arrive in Neverland – a sort of Hoxton warehouse party with a live band, singing round graffiti covered broken walls. Most play both the Lost Boys and Hook's crew (at times simultaneously in fight scenes that are a confusing but joyous watch) as well as moving the whole show along with scene builds and the aforementioned flying. It feels like the devised piece it is in the best use of the term, with everyone fully invested as each small move and countermove is what makes it special. From the rippling of the sea, to the planets and stars they fly through and the birds in the sky, the entire cast are choreographed beautifully – always seen yet never noticed.
The – ahem – 'hook' that holds this all together is the cross casting of Anna Francolini as Mrs Darling (a slightly flighty woman) and Captain Hook herself. It's more than just an interesting idea and possible comment on the role of parenthood though (the pertaining theme throughout being that everyone needs a Mother – slightly controversial in these days of a non defined familial norm) as her Hook – all platform heels, silver capped teeth and pancake white face, like a fierce drag queen without the drag – has a sense of real evil (for the kids to boo at) but also a genuine pain and hateful bitterness (for the adults to feel a little disturbed). When we see her in her bare bones being dressed up into Hook's outfit, she is a lonely balding shell of a figure that actually makes you believe this panto villain may be real.
With harmless playful jokes, silly rhyming songs but with pretty damn good tunes (and some with strong lyrics too), a gobbledegook bitter male Tink and hilarious too short performance by Ekow Quartey as Nana the Maid/Dog, there's plenty to keep the whole family entertained. Some of the scenes occasionally slow down the energy – the storytelling and "Mums and Dads" games do go on for the more hardened and cynical of us but are part of the original plot so maybe need their place. And Hilton as Pan seems the least invested of all in a cast that is as strong as the sum of its parts. But maybe that's a grown up critic niggling. You can do a lot worse than letting go of everything and climbing under the comfort blanket of this thoroughly enjoyable flight to Neverland – and there's never been a better time to do it.... with or without children.