Forget Kensington Gardens and Edwardian townhouses – all Wendy, Michael and John have is a yard with a bit of grass and some bins. tutti frutti’s latest production brings the Peter Pan story down to earth and up-to-date: you don’t need flying wires and special effects for an adventure, magic can be made anywhere.
The treasured story originally grew out of the games J. M. Barrie played with the five Llewelyn-Davies boys during their childhood; the author later described capturing this make-believe on the page as akin to rubbing five sticks together to create a spark, not unlike campers creating a fire. Underneath a Magical Moon is inspired by the tale’s creation: as a treat, Wendy and her brothers (Grace Lancaster, Jack Brett, Chris Draper) have set up a makeshift tent in the garden, with a midnight picnic of crisps and pop. A bedtime story about pirates, fairies and the boy who never grew up becomes a game, with all three joining in to pretend and act it out – John is thrilled to become Hook, throwing on his Dad’s red dressing gown, Tinkerbell is trapped in their plastic picnic cooler, and the cleverly reimagined ‘Clock-odile’ has flower pots for eyes and huge snapping jaws made of garden rakes. As it should always be, Peter Pan is borne out of children’s play.
The whole adventure begins because Peter visits the Darling household to hear Wendy’s stories; in the past this has indicated her suitability to become a passive, domestic, maternal figure for the Lost Boys. Mike Kenny’s script switches this up, and Wendy’s storytelling gives her power – she can shape her own narrative, including ambitions to be an astronaut and the ability to protect both her family and fairies from poison and pirates. It’s not Wendy’s last night in the nursery (after all, the family live in a ground-floor flat) but her night-time storytelling stems from insomnia as she worries about growing up. As a modern-day tweenager, Wendy has difficult decisions ahead, like whether to befriend the bitchy girls who sit at the back of the school bus and tease her brothers – they’re not unlike the Neverland mermaids, beautiful but horrid.
Kate Bunce’s inventive design sees the children using whatever materials are to hand as set and props for their story. The mermaid’s tails are made from sleeping bags, and when the cast of three throw on swimming caps and bust out some synchronised moves to Motown-esque music, the moody but mesmerising creatures look a lot like The Supremes. Songs set the tone for their storytelling: the naughty pirates are characterised by hip hop rapping, regaling the audience with tales of their wicked habits like going to bed whenever they want and never brushing their teeth (Captain Hook readily admits he is an “evil so-and-so”).
One of the biggest criticisms of Peter Pan has always been that it is overloaded with a sentimentalism that primarily appeals to adults (many recent adaptations have capitalised on this predilection for nostalgia by setting the action during the First World War). Underneath a Magical Moon succeeds where so many previous productions have failed: rather than pointing out why parents like it, the production reveals why the Peter Pan story remains so popular with children.
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