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Peter Pan review at National Theatre, London – ‘imaginative, heart-filling, wonderful’

Paul Hilton (Peter Pan) in Peter Pan at the Olivier, National Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Sally Cookson’s 2012 production of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, revived and revised at the National Theatre for Christmas, sees her reuniting with many of the same performers and creative team as her superlative version of Jane Eyre – one of the best stage literary adaptations of recent years. The results border on bliss. Madeline Worrall – who also played Cookson’s Jane – is an appealingly practical, pyjama-clad Wendy, who struggles with the weight of suddenly becoming a reluctant mother to a troupe of Lost Boys.

Anna Francolini – stepping in late in the day to replace an injured Sophie Thompson – is a superb villainess, by turns malevolent and oddly melancholy as a goth-punk Hook, with glinting teeth and platform heels.

There are some wonderfully theatrical moments here. There are flying scenes in which the fact that the counter weights and ‘fairy strings’ are visible does not discount in any way from the magic. A green sheet ingeniously transforms into Peter’s missing shadow, a corrugated crocodile with gleaming red eyes stalks the stage, and a pirate ship emerges from the depths of the Olivier’s drum revolve.

Saikat Ahamad is a slightly divisive Tinker Bell, speaking his own fairy language. Felix Hayes is slightly underused as Smee, and Paul Hilton, in his bright green Drop Dead Fred suit, captures more of Peter’s cockiness and arrogance than his charm. But it matters not in what is an emotionally and imaginatively rich production that genuinely speaks to all ages. This is a Peter Pan capable of making children laugh and gasp, while making the hearts of adults fill to the brim with emotion.

Cookson is alert to the peculiarity and longing that runs through Barrie’s strange tale and the final few scenes are unexpectedly moving, catching the audience off guard while capturing the ache inherent in growing up – and growing old.

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Verdict
Imaginatively rich and unexpectedly moving staging of JM Barrie’s children’s favourite
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