Its quite incredible how the story of Peter Pan continues to give writers inspiration for imaginative and adaptive new work based on its ageless tales of adventure and of never giving in to that awful state of growing up!
This story of Peter Pans writer JM Barrie and his interwoven life with the Llewlyn Davies family beautifully blurs the lines between fact and fiction and steps into fantasy and adventure as well with just enough shades of reality to make this a fascinating story. It seems only fitting that to tell the story of a man that was so entrenched in storytelling that his life be portrayed with such great adventure.
Starting life as a film back in 2004 this is a show that has had quite a journey to get to this point. Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein took the leap to producing theatre with a peculiar decision to start the shows musical life in Leicester of all places in 2012. The show made a timid start to its life with only a luke warm reception from audiences and critics alike. Weinstein’s famously fierce determination would not let him give up at the first fall however.
Jump forward three years and with a new song writing partnership on board of Take That’s Gary Barlow and Lyricist Eliot Kennedy the show has moved nearer to Weinstein’s homeland and set up camp on Broadway. Some brave and bold decisions, but they have paid off. Finding Neverland now has the pedigree and the stamina to make it and to hold its own amongst the big shots on the Great White Way and presumably in the West End in the not too distant future.
There are great liberties taken with the true story of how JM Barrie met the Llewlyn Davies children and more so how his relationship began and developed with their Mother Sylvia. It doesn’t really matter though as this show is more about the spirit of love and adventure, of family and nurture. Self belief is promoted in the most exhilarating of ways with the internal dialogue being brought to life by the most colourful characters ever written, and yes that includes Captain Hook!
At the performance I attended the flighty Neverland vessel was crewed by a slew of understudies. That this took nothing away from the piece is testament to its great giving nature and its ensemble feel with energy and life being given to it from all quarters.
Kevin Kern as Barrie manages to portray the relationship he has with the children purely as a naïve and playful one. Rumours of darker intentions that have often been spoken about long after his death are thankfully far from view here. Kern sings well and is genuinely moving as he poignantly says goodbye to the woman he was never seemingly quite able to fall in love with properly.
As Sylvia it is another Brit that works her magic in the form of the always impressive Laura Michelle Kelly. Kelly plays Sylvia as a woman of great strength and fortitude despite the obstacles that have been thrown at her in life. The ultimate obstacle that sees her life end is played with really tenderness and finishes with one of the most beautifully and movingly staged scenes I have ever seen.
Paul Slade Smith is dazzling as Captain Hook, the subconscious voice that pushes Barrie to dare and to leap. Smith avoids the temptation of caricature and remains playful with just a hint of intimidation just hiding around the corner. Nicely observed performances are given by all of the youngsters too, particularly Eli Tokash as Peter who has some sturdy scenes to get through and does so with great feeling and believability.
Scenically this is a show that never stops giving. It is often beautiful in its simplicity. Scott Pask’s designs and Jon Driscoll’s projection work have allowed the rest of the creative team to create a stunning world for Barrie’s adventure to take place. The crescendo of act one as rigging springs from the front of the stalls and smoke billows in to create the waves as he sets sail on his next great journey are breathtaking and wonderful to behold. Paul Kieve’s illusions bring just enough magic to the party to make it clever and even more charming rather than gimmickey.
Barlow’s music has moments that really stir the soul and with some slick direction by the ever imaginative Diane Paulus this is a show that will simply leave you smiling from ear to ear, with perhaps a little tear in your eye at the same time.