Thursday, 11 June 2015

Review | PETER PAN (Welsh National Opera) June 2015

Peter Pan, the story of the boy who never grows up... and it is before they're grown up that you should introduce children to theatre and they're likely to become lifelong theatregoers. Children need a way in, usually pantomime (of which Peter Pan is becoming a popular choice) but for other forms, such as Ballet and Opera it can be more difficult. 

Companies such as Northern Ballet are great at their 'Children's Ballets' with Elves And The Shoemaker currently touring and now Welsh National Opera's attempt to appeal to new audiences comes in the shape of J.M Barrie's classic tale. 

Despite Disney's glossier movie, recent adaptations of the story have focussed on the darker undertone, the RSC's Wendy And Peter Pan for example explores not only death  but closer looks at Wendy's responsibilities. For this version, it appears that the very Victorian nature of the story is the central theme - the dark and Dickens-like London that perhaps ties into WNO's season - A Terrible Innocence. 

The innocence however is what I'd question. I'm not entirely sure that opera fully lends itself to the story of Peter Pan. For one, the operatic style of singing is mature beyond any of the characters' age  and it was apparent in the confusion of nearby children that adults playing the young Darling family was a little too much to comprehend. 

The lyrics are at their best when spoken. Much of the evening is spent looking at the subtitles for clarification despite it being sung in English. It seems odd to say that it is the singing itself that takes away from the piece which is otherwise a visual treat. 

It's beautifully lit and there are some breathtaking movement sequences. The use of trains cleverly  aid change in location and even a train carriage as a pirate ship works well. The locations themselves are made from toys and other objects around the children's nursery - it's very clever, especially the grandfather clock which becomes the crocodile. The only confusion design-wise is that Neverland seems to be located within the nursery itself, perhaps suggesting it's just a make believe bedtime story? 

There is a very nice use of animated projection to portray Tinkerbell and her revival is a heartwarming moment aided with the use of puppetry. 

Ashley Holland is excellent and stands out as Captain Hook. The highlight is Hook's song with his band of pirates. Surprisingly, it is this moment that's most lighthearted and has the most rhythm, it's where the music finally gets going from what was a little discordant before. 

The idea of Peter Pan as an opera is not to be dismissed, but to be thoroughly enjoyed by children it needs to focus on the fantasy and a greater sense of hope, it's dark and very downbeat. The deliberate focus on the danger removes the elements of fun. For the adults, perhaps a deeper exploration into at least one of the relationships that begins to touch at the heart.

An alternative flight to Neverland - a route you won't have taken before but one that's interesting to travel. 

For further operas at Birmingham Hippodrome, click here

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