Are we ending our indulgence of ‘man-babies’? If Adam Sandler films were the tipping point and presidents with Twitter tantrums were the moment when it stopped being funny, there’s a sense that men should finally grow up.
the audience are a mix of folded arms and bemused scowls
So Peter Pan Syndrome is timely. The show claims to be aimed at women who are saddled with boys who won’t grow up - so this show has more in common with Kiley’s sequel, The Wendy Dilemma. It’s pitched as a survival guide for wives, girlfriends, sisters and mothers who may be wondering, with some justification, why it’s their job to accommodate someone who refuses to grow up.
A stuttering start to the show puts the audience on the wrong foot, a position from which they never recover. Henry Sargeant is acutely aware of this, joking that his ‘test’ for PPS (Peter Pan syndrome) is genuinely ‘testing’ and warning ‘This goes on for fucking ages.’ The show is inordinately stuffed with lines like ‘This is more fun for me than it is for you’ and indeed, the audience are a mix of folded arms and bemused scowls. Once our performer has experienced an ‘awfully big adventure’ on stage for about the fifth time, you hope this is somewhat the point: perhaps he really is taking the PPS.
The best jokes are confidently thrown away: there’s a lovely evocation of snake charming and the representation of Pan’s shadow, a sweetly simple effect, is quite literally thrown away before all of the audience have arrived. There’s a neat scene with Wendy appearing on a fame-hungry chat show, as well a sequence with Tinkerbell that appears to be a comment on rape culture - as befits a show loosely inspired by a pop-culture psychology book, it’s possible we’re reading too much into this.
The show doesn’t deliver on its promises, but it does everything on its own terms and the best moments, annoying or not, are those of puerile immaturity - even if it’s obvious that this is also when the audience visibly twitch. That said, everyone enjoys seeing Pan’s cold-blooded nemesis scamper around waving a huge appendage - a sort of croc-cock if you will. It’s telling that on the night of this review there’s a small group of twenty-something men in the audience who spend a lot of time trying to distract the actor by chucking things on stage, which is as erudite an example of Peter Pan syndrome as you might care to find.
In the end then, a beguiling yet frustrating hour. It’s clear that the show lives or dies depending on whether the audience are willing to go along with it (this time: not so much) and there’s plenty of sound material here. But it’s instructive that it’s up to everybody other than Peter Pan to make the effort, leaving you with the inescapable sense that there’s still no better response to the performances of an energetic child than ‘That’s very nice dear. Now play nicely, Mummy has a headache.’