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Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure (Susan Elkin reviews)

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure
Based on the tale by J.M. Barrie. Book by Willis Hall. Music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
society/company: Cambridge Theatre Company
performance date: 22 Dec 2018
venue: Great Hall, The Leys, Cambridge
Cambridge Theatre Company – specialist in community theatre and with charitable status from this year – is only three years old but its achievements are remarkable. And this production of Peter Pan, original, imaginative, moving and funny sets an even higher standard for a company which seems to be constantly raising the bar. None of this cast are professional and most of them are in their teens although the grown ups are played by adults. Chris Cuming knows, really knows, how to get the very best out of every single performer.

Working with an ensemble who are grouped on the stage throughout, around the central playing area with the eight piece band upstage right, Cuming makes the action feel contained and intimate. And of course he’s an accomplished choreographer who makes, for instance, the Lost Boys’ first appearance seem really muscular and I loved the umbrella wolves.

A Stiles and Drewe musical always feels slightly – but very positively – old fashioned which means we get lots of witty words set to good tunes in a range of rhythms and keys with plenty of discrete set piece numbers. They write, of course, in the tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan which I like very much indeed. “It’s a curse to be a pirate with a conscience” for example, to a 6|8 off beat jazzy rhythm – all very catchy and appealing and this cast do it real justice. Willis Hall’s book, moreover, is very firmly rooted in JM Barrie’s original play so there is a fair amount of cheerfully uncompromising language.

Jasmine Cairns is outstanding as Wendy (very versatile too – it’s only a few weeks since I reviewed her as Maria in West Side Story). She has a warm, soaring singing voice and is a very naturalistic actor whose ‘work’ doesn’t show. She just lives in the role. There is a fine performance from Dan Lane as Peter Pan too although his acting surpasses his singing. He gets the boyish bravado, tempered by vulnerability and fear just right.

Warren Clark, who looks like a younger Tim Piggot-Smith, is powerful as Hook, not dressed for once like Charles II, and Gareth Mullan is good fun as Smee, It is, however, the energetic ensemble which really triumphs in this sparky show. Their movement work is electrically sharp and their choral singing spot on.

Full marks too to lighting designers John Moore and Martha Gregg who make this show look mysterious, arresting and colourful with a range of quirky effects. The puppetry isn’t credited as such in the programme but Nana the dog as an adapted lampshade with tail and legs is wittily effective. I’m afraid wasn’t convinced by Hook’s being swallowed by umbrellas at the end. Had I not known he was being eaten by the long-feared crocodile I would never have worked it out.

Well done, Louis Ling, the driving force behind CTC. You are both changing young lives and creating some pretty fabulous theatre.

First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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