Saturday, 02 July 2022

Hard work makes this Pan fly

Staged both indoors and out, South Hill Park’s production of Peter Pan was an audacious, ambitious and astonishing adventure.

Peter Pan
South Hill Park, Bracknell
Friday, August 19

Staged both indoors and out, South Hill Park’s production of Peter Pan was an audacious, ambitious and astonishing adventure.

Using the Wilde Theatre to represent England and the lush surroundings of South Hill Park’s green landscape as Neverland, this production looked like it was going to be no mean feat — and it was a huge success.

The action started in the theatre, where the central seating had been removed to make full use of the space. Here, the delicate decorations such as little dainty clouds and lanterns on beds worked well with the set and lighting.

There were various clever illusions including the puppetry of Nana the dog, Peter Pan trying to get in sync with his own shadow and flying, then Peter and the Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael, leaping from the balcony and seeming to fly off together.

At this point the audience was invited outside into the gardens, ready to see what surprises awaited.

I had been informed that the earlier production had had to be staged fully indoors, but the team was determined this one would see everyone go outside, which we did — and it paid off.

In keeping with the spirit of the Peter Pan story, it felt much like reliving our childhood as we were led to little enclaves and gatherings, where the Lost Boys, Pirates and Indians got caught up with the Darlings.

The audience was divided into two sections: one who became Pirates and the other Indians — we were with the Pirates.

The timing of this was impressive, as there were two groups heading off in different directions to watch the drama unfold without any sense of delay or speeding up. This just added to the sense of achievement — to have two simultaneous productions outside, moving groups of people around, with occasional bemused dog-walkers also enjoying the spectacle.

As we wandered and watched, going around the landscaped gardens, forests and lakes, some striking features became apparent, including the cobalt blue, gold and black of the Pirates, with little touches in everything from eyeliner to hair, coats and boots.

The Indians had lots of tan, red and feathers, while Tinkerbell had a wonderful pair of retractable wings. Each little enclave had its own carefully crafted set pieces, with cabin bunks, campfires and — my favourite — an elaborate pirate ship.

The picnic was a great chance for some banter between the audience and the players, with some cheesy pirate jokes thrown in for good measure.

My bearded and thus pirate-like husband got to clamber aboard but luckily wasn’t made to walk the plank, although a local mayoress did get tied to the mast as the Pirates coveted her gold chain — in fact they had a bonanza of three local mayors!

In the event, the weather seemed to emulate the story, as a mild drizzle became a little persistent but finally the sun burst out and the rain subsided, so a brolly and a couple of tea towels wouldn’t go amiss for those attending.

At a few points it seemed as though the weather might take a turn for the worse but everyone held their nerve. The practically invisible outdoor crew silently monitored their sound systems in the background and kept things going.

On top of this, Max Puplett as Hook injected the perfect amount of dastardly comic glee and his foils, Smee/Liza, Starkey/Mrs Darling and Cecco/Mr Darling, played by the multitasking Heather Wilson, Caroline Loveys and Michael Beakhouse, along with cohorts Mullins, Noodler, Cookson and Skylights, created a highly enjoyable picnic atmosphere.

My sons were invited to sword-fight and we all shared in some chit-chat, which really kept the audience engaged.

All the actors played their roles believably and with great gusto, pouring their hearts and souls into it. It must have taken a lot of dedication, hard work and serious planning to make this production fly — but it was well worth it.

We were bowled over by the show and each and every player seemed to have great fun in this hugely successful attempt at an awfully big adventure.

Peter Pan is at South Hill Park until Sunday (August 21) and again from Thursday, August 25, to Sunday, August 28.

Review: Natalie Aldred

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