HAODS performers fly away to Neverland in this clever re-telling of a children’s classic

Wendy and Peter Pan. Picture by Raymond Bailey
Wendy and Peter Pan. Picture by Raymond Bailey

Wendy and Peter Pan by Ella Hickson, Horsham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, The Capitol, Horsham, Thursday, August 16

The public loves to see something new made out of something old.

Becca Bracewell as Wendy. Picture by Sam Taylor

Becca Bracewell as Wendy. Picture by Sam Taylor

How else do you explain the abundance of remakes and reboots that have hit our cinema screens over the past decade?

From James Bond to Star Wars to Alice In Wonderland and Jack and the Beanstalk, entertainers seem compelled to dig up old tales or characters and find new ways to use them.

And we feel compelled to watch.

This isn’t always successful, of course. The 2016 Ghostbusters flopped horribly and the 2015 film Pan was a garish disaster that failed to do anything interesting with a Peter Pan origin story.

Gus Quintero-Fryatt as Peter Pan. Picture by Sam Taylor

Gus Quintero-Fryatt as Peter Pan. Picture by Sam Taylor

So, with this in mind, I approached Wendy and Peter Pan with trepidation.

The latest HAODS theatrical production is based on Ella Hickson’s re-telling of J.M. Barrie’s classic story with more of a focus on Wendy and her struggles.

It begins with the Darling siblings playing in their nursery in 1908 before one of them, Tom, falls ill. Things don’t look good for the child and, one night, Peter Pan arrives to take him away.

The Darling family is devastated by their loss and Wendy becomes convinced that a boy keeps appearing at the window. The mischievous young lad eventually introduces himself and takes the Darling children to Neverland with the help of his grumpy fairy sidekick Tink.

Andrew Donovan as Captain Hook. Picture by Sam Taylor

Andrew Donovan as Captain Hook. Picture by Sam Taylor

No real surprises so far, but the differences from the original story really become noticeable when the kids arrive in Neverland and Wendy makes it her mission to find her lost brother.

Peter becomes rather bratty and only wants to play games and the lost boys immediately put pressure on Wendy to be their mother and take on all the responsibilities that go along with that.

Meanwhile, Captain Hook and his incompetent pirates are hunting the lost boys with a killer crocodile following their every move. On top of all this, a bitter and ageing Hook becomes somewhat fascinated by Wendy and, once he’s captured her, offers compelling reasons why she should side with him.

With its feminist undercurrent and interest in the darker themes of the tale, Wendy and Peter Pan could have come across as being preachy, angry or simply too subversive to be fun.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case. Wendy and Peter Pan handles the weighty themes, restructured narrative and reimagined characters in a way that still offers an enjoyable show for all ages.

Becca Bracewell puts in a strong performance as Wendy, switching between enthusiasm and exasperation as bizarre events unfold around her. She also gets the comic timing right as well as nailing the more serious, emotional moments near the end.

Gus Quintero-Fryatt is perfect as the impish and often petulant Peter, skipping about a with sense of self-confidence and reckless excitement.

Tess Kennedy plays Tink with the kind of ungraceful, sarcastic and even deadpan humour that you’d expect of Kathy Burke or Jo Brand, stomping about the place in boots that no fairy should ever wear.

Captain Hook has a real presence in this show thanks to Andrew Donovan who manages to make the old villain strangely alluring and sympathetic.

HAODS’ comedy specialist Chris Dale is enjoyably cartoonish as Smee, adding a rather camp feel to his character’s peculiar mannerisms and ways of speaking.

Martin Bracewell is particularly likeable as Martin The Cabin Boy, presenting an innocent man-child who had the rotten luck of being enlisted by the pirates when he should have been a lost boy.

Amy Blaskett has great fun as Tiger Lily, performing the character as a kind of fearless American biker chick, complete with a sassy, no-nonsense attitude.

On the more serious side of the play, back in the world of 1908 London, Roz Hall gives a sensitive and realistic performance as Mrs Darling, a woman dealing with the loss of her son. The resulting near-breakdown of her marriage to Mr Darling (Andrew Donovan again) is delicately handled and has all the nuance you’d hope for. Neither character is really in the wrong here, they’re just two humans struggling to cope with a tragedy.

Admittedly, the tone of this play is a little uneven and scenes of turmoil in the Darling household contrast a little too starkly with the colourful adventure in Neverland.

There’s also a strange monologue from Captain Hook where he reveals his frustration with ageing to a sleeping Peter Pan. It’s a fascinating and humanising moment for the character, but I can’t imagine younger audience members understanding it.

That said, the kids certainly enjoy all the flying, swordfights, slapstick gags and moments of silliness that this play has to offer, as well as a few bits of audience participation.

And that’s the nice thing about this version of the Peter Pan story: it doesn’t lose sight of its core audience despite all the tweaks and changes.

The youngsters on stage are all lively and winning performers, bringing the magical world of Neverland to life with an adventurous flair.

This is a review of a performance featuring Team Tink, which is Jolyon Haynes as John Darling, Ellie Titmuss as Michael Darling, Edwin Bussey as Tom Darling, Katie Kenny as Slightly, Emily Wheatley as Tootles, Niamh Torrens McGowan as Curly, Alina Hillicks as Nibs, Leanne Morley as Twin 1 and Nikita McMahon as Twin 2.

They’re great and I’m certain that Team Tiger are just as good in their shows.

Overall then, Wendy and Peter Pan is another striking production to add to the long list of HAODS successes.

The script arguably tries to do too much, but it’s all kept under just enough control by director Yvonne Chadwell who delivers a soaring, swashbuckling adventure that feels fun and freewheeling.

The sets and costumes are very nicely done as well. The use of screen projections for the backdrops, the cleverly placed props, the combination of film footage and smoke effects in the flying sequences – it all captures a strong sense of magic and wonder.

Peter Pan may be an old story, but this version makes it fresh and youthful once again.

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