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Yo Ho Ho-ing All the Way Home: Peter Pan Jr

7 April 2017

Peter Pan Jr

After J.M.  Barrie

Dramacube Productions, at Hampton Hill Theatre, 6th to 8th April

 Review by Georgia Renwick

 Though they may act like it sometimes, deep down, no child (or adult!) really wants to grow up, so what musical production more fitting to stage with the younger ones than Peter Pan? The children can fly as fairies, sparkle as mermaids, run wild as lost boys and as fearsome pirates, fight with cutlasses and fantasise about slitting throats, while us adults indulge in a little harmless escapism! To Never-land!

Dramacube Productions have staged musical theatre shows with their 7-16 year old students at Hampton Hill Playhouse since July 2015, and won two Swan Awards in the interim.  The two troops of student from Twickenham and Hampton Hill (soon to be three with a Kingston class starting this year) have been working hard on tonight’s production of Peter Pan all term, so the excitement of their families and friends waiting excitedly in the auditorium is palpable.  Some have even brought flowers, and some pass on ‘good luck’ messages to their children, waiting impatiently in the wings.  Tonight, Hampton Hill Playhouse truly has the buzz about it of a West End first night!  Each troop gets two nights each this week to put all their hard work into practice, some of the larger roles are shared between two students, so they each have their own night to shine.

The hard work has paid off and director Stephen Leslie, his Dramacube team and of course the stars, the children, have collectively have produced a highly entertaining and polished production.

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Photograph by Bomi Cooper

 

The script and book are a pairing of the play by J.M.  Barrie and the Disney Musical, with additional lyrics and dialogue added to give it a few high-spirited modern twists.  A not-so-wet Wendy observes sagely that Peter is actually rather “conceited”, and we have some fun with Tinkerbell, who can communicate only with us, the audience, and is often misunderstood by her fellows onstage, with whom she can only communicate using bells.  Meanwhile a morose “rogue and peasant Hook” continually slips Hamlet’s soliloquies into his speeches, “feeling poetic, Cap’n?” Smee asks innocently, whenever this happens.   Of course, it falls to two children to play the boring grown-ups but it is hard to take Mr Darling seriously when Wendy is a head taller than him! It just adds to the fun.

The memorable songs ‘You Can Fly’ and ‘Never Smile at a Crocodile’ bring a smile of nostalgic recognition to my face, but it is in the newer material that the singing is more challenging, with solos and two part harmonies handled particularly well by the older children.  Tiger Lilly’s solo, “What Makes a Girl Brave” was a particularly strong addition.  Having played her myself as an enthusiastic eleven-year-old in a school production which involved a lot of wailing and crying, I felt a particular affinity when she got to show her feistier side:  “Not just boys are fighters.  Not just boys are strong.  Got to keep inside your heart this ancient native song”.  There are also challenges laid where some of the cast have swapped genders (In the Twickenham troop tonight Hook and Pan are both played convincingly by girls, as well as some of the lost boys) but the girls attack the lower registers with aplomb, undeterred.  The principal characters where mic’d up so they were not lost, but the production is strongest when they sing as a unit and really fill the space powerfully.

Music is provided by a backing track of a full orchestral production which is a wise solution and adds a professional feel, you certainly wouldn’t be able to fit so many musicians on the HHT stage!

The set design, the work of Alan Bower, has been put together in a highly adaptable style.  The ship’s hull has a window cut in it, which creatively doubles as both the bedroom window and a hidey hole for the lost boys.  For the ship’s next trick, when lit from behind the seemingly solid hull is revealed to be only semi-opaque.  This allows for the shadows of other characters to appear through it, perfect for the sneaking lost boys and a very professional affect.  The upper level of the ship’s deck has the parent’s hearts in their throats as they disappear with a faintly alarming splash from the plank, and into the jaws of the small, smiling crocodile.

The sweet but deadly little crocodile was just one of the many beautifully realised costumes by Devon Opp and Lily Fendall.  The lost boys’ animal hoodies, complete with fluffy ears, were especially endearing!

One of the sweetest moments of the evening came when some of the principal children entered the auditorium from the rear doors, surprising family in the audience and giving us a chance as an audience to take a look around at the proud smiles of families and friends.  Yet the children stay focused, there are no ‘Hi mum!’ moments, no mini-melt downs over lines.  For children so young, Dramacube have done a fantastic job of achieving a level of polished professionalism, whist also keeping that child-like sparky naturalness in their performances.  This, I think, is the secret to this heart-warming production that will have you Yo-Ho-Ho-ing all the way home!

But most importantly of all, the children seem to really be enjoying themselves which as any parent or teacher knows, is the crucial difference.  You are reminded, seeing their eyes alight, their grinning faces, why they are here and we are watching them in the first place.  Whether or not they make it as future West End stars, right here, right now each one of them is enjoying the moment and bright, confident, theatre lovers are being made.

Georgia Renwick

April 2017

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From → musicals, Reviews

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