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Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Another awesome Wendy & Peter Pan review

Jemima Mitchell is an 18 year old English Language and History student at the University of Birmingham. With a strong love for theatre and the RSC she is taking advantage of the close links between Birmingham and the RSC to see as many shows as possible. Currently a Student Ambassador for the RSC she is looking forward to being able to try and encourage more young people to attend the theatre.

I am an avid reader and have always enjoyed reading whatever I could get my hands on. J M Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy is one of the earliest books I can remember. My copy of it still sits in pride of place on the family bookshelf, despite the fact that I, unlike Peter, have grown up and (supposedly) flown the nest. With daring sword fights, a mermaid lagoon, flying and fairies there was nothing not to love. At least as a child. Having now grown up and developed into a strong feminist, it’s fair to say that Wendy’s restriction to the role of ‘mother’ is one I strongly resent. Therefore, when I heard of the RSC’s Christmas production of Wendy & Peter Pan it’s fair to say I leapt at the chance to see it and had booked to see it twice before I even knew what was happening.

Upon walking into the theatre the first thing you notice (or at least, the first thing I noticed) was the fantastic set and, interestingly, the number of beds. The RSC is famous for its jaw dropping sets and so that was to be expected. However, everyone knows the story of Peter Pan and there are three Darling children. Yet, there on the stage was undoubtedly four beds. My friends and I theorised that perhaps the dog had been given a bed, as Nana was treated very much like a human in the Disney version. Alas, we were wrong and Nana did not even make it into the show and instead there were actually four Darling children.

Yet, despite Nana’s absence, the wonderful creative genius of Ella Hickson in adding an extra Darling to the story added all the depth that the original was now missing for me as an adult. At the beginning of the play, Peter and his band of shadows come to take Tom (the extra Darling) away to Neverland. As the shadows enter the nursery, W B Yeats’ The Stolen Child begins to echo throughout the theatre. Having studied this poem in great detail for A Level Literature, the tone of the play immediately became clear as Yeats creates a very sinister view of the fairy world which steals children away to its magical, fantasy land.

This then, is the catalyst for Wendy’s own adventure and she sets off to rescue Tom and bring him home. Mariah Gale puts in an excellent performance as Wendy, the girl struggling between child and adult. It is in Neverland that Gale truly makes the role her own. We enter Neverland on Wendy’s coattails and watch as she defies everything the world has tried to predetermine for her and knocks all the obstacles out of her way. We are introduced to a wide plethora of diverse characters, who all serve in their own way to defy stereotypes. There is great diversity within even the ranks of the pirates (in the form of Martin) and the lost boys and the wonderful reimagining of Tiger Lily (played by Mimi Ndiweni who stole the stage whenever she was on) provides a strong female heroine all the audience can get behind, not to mention Tink, whose character development throughout the show is spectacular to see.

These three dimensional characters, backed up by the (as always) spectacular set, provided me with everything J M Barrie’s version is missing, giving the boys and the girls equal chance to play and save the day. If Barrie’s story lives on for its sheer magical delight, Hickson’s reimagining will live on for bringing the show into the 21st century with all the magic of the original as well as an extra special spark that is all its own. Definitely a show not to be missed.

Make sure you get your BP £5 tickets this Christmas period for an unforgettable night of theatre!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Wendy & Peter Pan - Review

We have been working with the youth engagement agency, Beatfreeks, Here is Luci's (from Beatfreeks) review of Wendy & Peter Pan.

This is a feminist interpretation of a feminist interpretation of Peter Pan

The story of Peter Pan has never been my favourite. I mean with all the magic, pirates, mermaids, sassy fairies and three-dimensional characters, you'd think I'd love it. And as a practicing woman-child parts of me really do. Honestly, who can ever get enough of swashbuckling adventures, flying, massive amounts of sass and the prospect of never having to grow up? But in all the interpretations I've seen, none of them resonated with me. 

And ironically, (as I'm reviewing a play about never wanting to grow up) now I'm older, I understand why. Peter Pan, as a classic, is problematic for contemporary reimagining’s. Whenever I’ve watched any interpretations I've anticipated having to grit my teeth through uncomfortable scenes. I know. J.M Barrie created Peter Pan as a character in 1902 and staged his most popular version of the play in 1904, so we are talking about a play that was constructed through the lens of The London Victorian era, you know, way before Western media truly considered the negative impact of racial and gender-based caricatures and stereotypes (although some would wonder if they do even now, here's to looking at you Hollywood). But after enduring the Disney cooperation's "What Makes The Red Man Red" I had long since disconnected with the Peter Pan franchise entirely. (That's not to say I didn't adore Robin Williams in Hook or have my first androgynous awakening from the 2003 version). But if we put the racial problems aside for a moment there's another reason why I never connected with it. 

Like the majority of adventurous tales I was told when I was growing up, the story is mostly boy-centric and Little Luci was tired of it. Wouldn't you be if the extent of your female representation were either: Wendy, whose character development hinged on her embracing gender roles and gracefully understanding the steps towards maturity? Or Tink, who though is promising and fantastically complex, has some serious hang ups that stop her from just having some magic fairy fun? Or Mrs Darling, a somewhat forgettable character, and lastly, Tiger Lily, who though was a person of colour, her presence was minimalist and only there as a device to show how great Peter Pan was at fighting off the Pirates. 

I mean I had no desire to be any of these characters. If anything I wanted to be Pan. Pan looked like he had fun. Or a Lost Boy. They looked like they had fun. Or even Captain Hook (villainy has always intrigued me). I didn't want to grow up. I wanted to fly. I wanted to be a wild child on a perfect island forever, who wouldn't?  Like I said, the premise was there waiting for me to love it, but I couldn't. 

That was, until I saw the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)'s interpretation. They called it Wendy and Peter Pan and it hit all the right tones with me. I mean, since we are talking about The RSC I don't feel the need to wax lyrically about the strength of the actors, or the beautiful movement choices, or the epic grandness of the technical and staging design or the high production value. After all it is the RSC. They've got a reputation to uphold and I don't want to spoil anything for you.

But what I do want to talk about is how this version helped me to understand the story of Peter Pan in a new way. It stimulated me as an adult with some chunky food for thought on its meatier themes of death and youth, while still inviting the Little Luci in me to find characters and scenes I'd wished I had the opportunity to hear originally. It was a delight to watch on the premier night with so many young people in the crowd. They cooed and awed and cried and laughed in all the right places, which is testimony to the magic of the show. It successfully transports the viewer to a magical world where everything is exciting and every scene is engaging. 

 It was also satisfying on another level. It shone light on the experiences of the women of the play. Not just as Peter's love interest, or a device to show how great he was or how evil Hook was. They had real and strong developmental moments. Mrs Darling, Wendy's mother, wasn't just a minimal character, she did something for herself and was seen as a sympathetic but strong maternal figure who loved play as much as her children in spite of struggles. 

And Wendy wasn't in Neverland just to play an extended game of Pretend House with Peter and his Lost Boys but had her own mission, which she succeeded in. As did Tiger Lily, who, with a bit of writing genius was a person of colour that wasn't offensive, serving as an interesting historical parallel to our own world, and was on all accounts a warrior (Little Luci wants to be her at playtime). Tink, who found her own brand of happiness and wasn't your average ordinary interpretation of a fairy. She was rough and tumble with gentleness to her. 

Like I said, all these ladies had full characters with strong back stories and complex, independent thoughts which enabled them to save themselves, and those they loved. Actually at one point the girls on Neverland; Tink, Wendy and Tiger, join together to overcome a Pirate-based problem which felt was sublime. Forget the glorification of tearing each other down, female solidarity is the story little girls need to be hearing. 

There was also space for gender-role fluidity with the male characters, which was perfect. Needless to say the script was great, thanks Ella Hickson, because though the play was a feminist interpretation it wasn't just about the ladies. The males were equally integral and well considered (and isn't that what feminism is truly about)?

Secondly it used the elements of fantasy to tackle some pretty heavy topics. It is speculated that J.M Barrie wrote Peter Pan in tribute of his fourteen-year-old brother who died in an ice skating accident when he was quite young. That kind of solemnness and gravitas is what sews this interpretation together. It tackles very adult issues of grief, discontentment and growth with great care. It offers a space to feel and heal by using its fantastic cast of characters to instil a sense of belief and comfort. 

Thirdly it nodded at the suffragette movement by adjusting the timescale of the story forward by a few decades. This was incredible to watch from a historical perspective. As the viewer we witnessed Wendy's frustrations with Peter Pan, who decided he no longer wanted to play Father anymore while she had no choice but to be Mother despite it not being her ambition, and at the same time observed Mrs Darling's frustrations which were also associated with the concept of wifely duties. Meanwhile this growing social unrest was creating a movement to address these exact issues (Read Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan). 

That's not to say it was all perfect. The justification for why there were only Lost Boys was too male-centric for my tastes and the play could benefit by being more sensitive to existing queer stereotypes. But apart from that it was a solid show and a fantastic night out. 

Leading me to conclude that navigating intersectional feminism isn’t easy. Especially through premises that were created before sexism, racism and classism were carefully addressed through mainstream mediums. But when it is done, and done with consideration and care as with this particular play, it is so exciting and worth it. So congratulations to The RSC on being brave enough to breathe new and fresh life into a story that deserves to be told.  Even if the social hierarchal structure it was originally founded on is upheaved, the themes of Neverland never grow old.