Christmas is an important time up and down the country for theatres and audiences alike. For the venues the five or six week run is a cash cow that can help support the rest of the years programming, for an audience it can be a first introduction to the art form, if all goes well, it can be the beginning of a beautiful adventure. So its sad to say that Peter Pan, now playing at the Exeter Northcott Theatre, resolutely refuses to fly.
It’s rare to see work on the professional stage that doesn’t get the basic fundamentals of stagecraft right but there is so much here that is wrong that it makes you wonder just what has taken place in the rehearsal room. The children in particular have been badly let down by a director who needs to keep a firmer hand on the tiller;they turn their backs on the audience midway through delivery of a line so the cadences swoop and then disappear; presumably for budgetary reasons only some of them have been mic’d so that when they deliver lines in groups the soundscape’s created are awkward and jarring and the battle scenes have been choreographed so that Peter and Hook are relegated to the side to make way for inconsequential fights that would look badly choreographed in the playground. In short its close to a car crash and a rather slap dash one at that.
Things will undoubtedly improve as the run goes on but in this press performance an early problem with getting Peter to fly was just the beginning, with sporadic loud backstage crashes, a technician with a penchant for the starring roles so much focus did he pull when he appeared to harness an actor, a door that refused to open and a cupboard that couldn’t stay shut. Ellan Perry’s doll house set is a thing of beauty but as of press night still impractical. The transition from the Darling household to Neverland is lacking in magic, while the script sounds like it has been written by an enthusiastic but novice volunteer. Low budgets are one thing, a lack of attention to detail another. Exeter is being badly let down here.
A couple of performances survive the disaster. Laura Prior is a puckish Peter with charm to spare, while Mark Carlisle’s Smee is bumbingly endearing. Admittedly when the flying works it captivates its willing audience. Yet it is only in the last few minutes that the show begins to come together and director Paul Jepson stages something quietly moving as its epitaph. Its a frustrating sign of what might have been but its not enough to save it. Some children may never want to grow up but you’d accept a life of pipe and slippers to escape this Neverland.