James Balwin’s “Peter Panic” is billed as a response piece to last year’s London riots, placing the known and loved Peter and Wendy of JM Barrie’s “Peter Pan” into a bizarre, intriguing and occasionally offensive piece of new writing. Set in a familiar-looking room that swelters claustrophobically in the August heat, the play explores issues of blame and national unity alongside an almost Oedipal triangle (if such a phenomenon exists).
The country’s gone to the dogs, the looters have been told they can do what they want and no one is allowed to get pregnant: adoption is the only way forward. Wendy has grown up and married the Prime Minister – a liberal democrat who is nauseatingly sexist and oddly distracted – and they adopt Peter, now a thirteen-year-old with some social misconduct problems. The play is set the evening before Wendy’s birthday, and decisions have to be made over who is responsible for the country’s downfall – and more importantly, who should be blamed.
It’s a fascinating take on the potential political machinations behind the riots last year, and although occasionally containing unnecessarily “explicit content” – it’s my belief that the whole love-triangle fiasco could be removed without too much detriment to the rest of the play – the acting is good and the final twist a clever one. The re-employment of other recognisable Barrie characters – the Lost Boys, the fairies, Tinkerbell – is clever, and there are moments of comic brilliance.
When the play finishes – fairly dramatically, with some of of Barrie’s own lines being used to great effect - you come away with a sense that you’ve just seen something that is clearly politically motivated without much explanation as to why. The message is convoluted by the other tensions of the play, making it overall a useful and uncomfortable hour that perhaps lacks a little focus.