Peter Pan At The Watermill

Every family has their own Christmas traditions, whether it be the post lunch board game, or having to be dressed before you can open your presents, these annual routines help ensure the time of year continues to feel magical and special. And in our family one of these traditions is to always go and see The Watermill Theatre’s Christmas production. Which this year is Peter Pan.

The Watermill is a small, independent theatre with a big reputation, while I’m not a regular last year’s trip saw a production of The Adventure’s of Pinocchio while I made a trip in the summer to see Ian Hisplop’s A Bunch Of Amateurs; I always look forward to my visits, even if the quality of the winter performance has been slipping.

Morgan Philpott & Bronte Tadman - Peter Pan - The Watermill

And sadly, Peter Pan has done nothing to halt that slide. In fact, I’m beginning to worry that the slide is becoming an accepted trend. Which is not a good thing. The reason we started going to these festive productions was the fact it was a production and not a pantomime. Yes, it was singing and dancing, but it had a really quality to it also. The narrative, the production, the tone, everything would come together to produce a evening’s entertainment that never lost sight of the message at its heart. An evening that sent you home entertained and informed and thoroughly charmed.

But over the last few years, comedy and pantomime have crept into it more and more. It’s not quite to the level of “he’s behind you” audience participation, but it’s now not far off it. The festive production has become silly. And the story of Peter Pan, this year, became one long series of monotonous puns and jokes. Of which only 2 were funny.

Morgan Philpott, back again, was playing Captain Hook and reminded me constantly of Stephen Fry’s The Master from The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, hamming every line, every gesture up one notch higher than was necessary. As a family, we’ve commented before than Philpott has always misjudged the style of acting he brings to the production and as a result, the longer the performance went on the more he extended every action, the more I found him grating, and the more I wished he’d just stop.

Jay Worley - Peter Pan - The Watermill

And you can’t have Captain Hook without his nemesis, Peter Pan, but for the boy who never grew up he was looking a little bit older than you’d expect. In fact, I’d say Peter and Wendy were both too old in appearance for their characters. Also, the language, attitudes and opinion presented by Peter and Wendy¬†were far, far too serious, they didn’t have that innocent naivety you’d expect from two apparent children.

And the Lost Boys, who looked the most convincing, simply channelled inner stupidity and immaturity. And when the actors who play them are called upon to undertake a spot of nautical cross-dressing, I’d had everything I could take.

The cast just don’t gel, you’ve got too many extremes in performance, and so you look to the rest of the production to save the day. To the songs, the story, the set, and once again you get let down on every level. Starting with the set, it just feels too simple, too plain and far too static. It never really changes, it never really develops and the characters just come and go around it. It never feels involved in the story. You don’t ever really feel like you are on a pirate ship, or in Neverland, or even in Wendy’s bedroom. It’s all just too empty.

The story is also weak. It’s lost the themes and underlying imagery which is at the heart of the Peter Pan adventures. And while it may be arguable that not being overly preachy is a good thing. You certainly don’t want to have ideas and principles forced upon you, this just feels as though they sprinkled a few light messages in here and there because they have to not because they want to.

Festive Production - Peter Pan - The Watermill

Now the saving grace of all these productions has been the music. But even that fails to hit the mark. Firstly there isn’t really enough singing and then, what little musical interludes there are play no purpose in the story and appear as a bit of an afterthought. The narrative makes it’s limp point before they have a brief group harmony, mainly, it appeared, as a way of passing a few moments to let a member of the small cast reposition or redress themselves, ready for their next entrance.

I am really disappointed by Peter Pan. The production’s of recent year’s have been declining in quality, but I truly felt that this year, instead of just failing to bring the source material to life as well as they could, they have instead just lowered the tone, style and age range it’s now designed for. Lowering it to such an extent that honestly, I was bored for large, large parts and while leaving was never crossed my mind, I certainly didn’t enjoy it.

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Stage First Edition

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