Peter Pan and his Lost Boys burst on to their outdoor stage in Newcastle’sJesmond Dene next to Pet’s Cornerthis week. The weather was kind and crowds of folks with their families settled into their camping chairs, spread themselves out on blankets, and extricated complicated picnics from their carpet bags (or Waitrose ones) much like Mary Poppins. Although the size of Heartbreak Productionsoutdoor stage is modest, the ambitions of the small group of energetic actors is not. Their task was to take us all to Neverland and put us back in touch with our inner child (only if you’d lost it in the first place, obviously)
Any excuse for a picnic
I wasn’t as familiar with the story of Peter Pan as I am with the Alice books which were the basis for last year’s fantastic production, but I know about Captain Hook and Tinkerbell and the ticking crocodile so that was OK. A local dance school was also involved in quite a large part of the show and they did very well with their little routines and popping up as additional pirates and things, especially as some of them were very young.A sign of how good the Heartbreak productions are, in my opinion, is the fact that quite large numbers of small children remain well behaved throughout the whole evening which shows how engaged they get. I think there’s so much going on with the music and movement and people that they don’t have time to get bored. There are a few jokes in there for the adults too which is always a good thingand the show works best when it’s able to appeal to all levels of the audience.
We love Peter Pan!
There were some very jolly scenes involving strange birds on stilts, jellyfish under the sea, bubbles and Indians (native Americans to you) which, as I haven’t read the book, seemed a bit random but the kids loved them. The crocodile was someone wearing a tin can coat with a long tail on a bike, genius. Who needs CGI, that’s what I say!
Tick Tock the cycling croc
The performers were all excellent. You have to be a top all-rounder for outdoor theatre. It’s probably one of the toughest acting gigs as you need volume and energy in spades and your audience is all over the place. In particular I liked Darryl Hughes as Mikey, Curly and Smee. He had some of the funnier roles, granted, but he was always likable, a natural with the audience, and had some lovely facial expressions.
Scared? Or does he just need the bathroom?
Ben Thorne was good as Captain Hook, although I liked him best as the reluctant Tinkerbell in his pink Tutu, and Xander Black was the hero as ‘Peter the Man’ in the skateboardpark who became our boy that never grew up – Peter Pan. I spent quite a long time trying to work out whether his hair was really dyed green or whether it was an additional hair piece, but I decided in the end it was really green which is why it looked so good. It does mean the poor lad has to have green hair for the whole of the summer but that’s the price of fame I guess.
Green hair is a serious business
It’s a bit of a signature with Heartbreak productions that there is a modern day parallel framework to the show which tops and tails the other story (although I do think Shakespeare may have thought of the play within a play thing first) At the beginning, the Lost Boys are lads in care with no mothers who hang around the skate board park and look to each other for love and support. The audience are asked to join in the story by supporting the ‘Save our Skate Park’ campaign which is really their Neverland. The importance of mothers is a strong theme in JM Barrie’s original book and the Lost Boys give Wendy this surrogate role. The redeeming power of the joy of childhood and make believe is also very prominent in this adaptation and seems particularly relevant in this time of recession and cuts. Where there are some serious reflections on these themes –all in rhyming couplets I might add – I actually found it quite moving.
Smee – first mate in trouble again
Captain Hook fights dirty..
Audience participation is also one of the strengths of this company,and one the most fun things about small scale outdoor theatre, as it is quite an intimate experience.There were more boos when Captain Hook exclaimed that women were weak than there were when the crocodile came on. Offend the yummy mummies of Jesmond at your peril! But we all know that Captain Hook was only horrible to otherpeople because he was unhappy. And because his arm was eaten by a large reptile of course.
This is a new show for Heartbreak and I’m sure it will get even better as it goes on and evolves but you can’t really argue with the feel-good factor of this performance. At the end the Lost Boys were all adopted by families in the audience and everyone got up and was singing and dancing the pirate song! Right up my street.
Never displease a pirate..
Peter Pan is touring at glorious outdoor venues throughout the UK all summer – a heart lifting experience on a fine English summer evening is hard to beat. They are back in the North East in August but they are doing LOTS of outdoor venues all over the country in parks and gardens and castles and stately homes so they will be coming to some glorious greenery near you – check out their website at Heartbreak Productions