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Phil Hopkins
Arts & Travel Editor
@philhopkinsuk
7:00 AM 9th January 2022
arts

Neverland Gets A Politically Correct Makeover

Corey Montague-Sholay (John Darling), Amber James (Wendy), Pierro Niel-Mee (Peter), Hope Kenna (Tink), Stefan Race (Michael Darling). Photo by Marc Brenner
Corey Montague-Sholay (John Darling), Amber James (Wendy), Pierro Niel-Mee (Peter), Hope Kenna (Tink), Stefan Race (Michael Darling). Photo by Marc Brenner
There is a political narrative flowing beneath the bow of Captain Hook’s galleon that is sure to shiver the odd timber or two in Leeds Playhouse’s latest ‘Christmas’ (and New Year) offering: Wendy & Peter Pan.

After two Covid cancellations I finally arrived in Neverland, courtesy of First Bus, not quite sure what to expect from this joint production with Tokyo’s Bunkamura.

I have seen a number of the West Yorkshire theatre’s festive productions over the years and, without exception, they are always a riot of colour, spectacular sets, costumes to die for and brilliantly directed. This offering from the creative brains of directors Jonathan Munby and Rupert Hands does not disappoint.

However, the clue is perhaps in the title and Ella Hickson’s adaptation of JM Barrie’s novel: Wendy & Peter Pan. The main protagonist is no longer the boy who never grows old but his sidekick Wendy Darling (Amber James).

Yes, she’s feisty, tough and out to give all the boys a run for their money and to let them know that she’s not a lady for the ironing board or a mother figure, but a tomboy who gives as good as she gets and is quite handy with a cutlass! And Pierro Niel-Mee as Peter Pan was brilliant and utterly convincing.

Meanwhile Captain Hook (David Birrell) appeared to have fallen under the affectionate eye of his shipmate, Smee (Brian Lonsdale) who was desperate to share a cottage for two with his hook-for-a-hand leader: plenty of unspoken nuances and, by the end, I thought they might just get a room for the night!

This production is a beautiful piece, no doubt about it, and Colin Richmond’s set and costumes effortlessly transport you to Neverland: job done, with evocative supporting music from composer, Shuhei Kamimura.

But, if theatre is designed to provoke, and Leeds Playhouse are a brand leader in that area, then it will certainly get intelligent people thinking because it is more than a show for the kids’: some will love the ‘political undercurrent’, others will roll their eyes.

Here are some of the comments I heard around me in the theatre: “Ooh, she’s (Wendy) a bit of a feminist isn’t she?”……..when asked by her grandson what she thought of the show grandma said: “It’s a 10 love” and the last one made me smile; “It’s a bit woke isn’t it.”

And yes it is. There are all the right coloured people on stage in all the right quantities, there’s balanced identities – my Asian friend thought that was fantastic and representative of ‘UK today’ – the women are suitably feisty and the men contrite for all their wrong doings, and lots of dialogue sets the record straight in terms of telling us, if we didn’t already know, that women are strong, have a role in life and that men (look out for Mr Darling’s closing speech) should think about doing a bit more ironing!

Yawn, yawn!

I genuinely thought this was a spectacular show that drew me in with every passing minute, however, truthfully, I can’t do with all the unspoken, nuanced political narrative and, sometimes, I just want to shout out: you’re trying too hard Leeds Playhouse, just entertain the kids. They did, but it’s a show that comes with conditions.

But go, you’ll love the whole production which is big, brash and wonderful.

Wendy & Peter Pan
Leeds Playhouse
Until January 22nd