Peter Pan Live! – The Show Must Go On

Written by Irene Mecchi

Directed by Rob Ashford & Glenn Weiss

Rating: 2 out of 5.

For several years now, American television network NBC has been adapting beloved musicals into televised theatrical productions. Originally designed to air in early June – The Shows Must Go On moves forward, allowing the Americans their chance to show the world their 2014 production of one of the UK’s timeless, definitive stories – Peter Pan.

Peter Pan – Live!’s structure is closer to a film set than a stage. There are no open walls for the audience, utilising closed sets and models for authenticity, rather than suggestion. The effects, particularly models and costumes, are impressive and match more substantial theatrical output. Breaking immersion though, the camera work is choppy, and focus (technical and figurative) drops frequently, beginning the descent of what had promise as an engaging adaption of Carolyn Leigh’s 1954 musical.

Christopher Walken as Captain James Hook. That should be the golden ticket, right? Attempting his finest Anthony Head impersonation, Walken is at his Walkenest but lacks the fire to sell the character. His speak-singing stagnates much of the solitary numbers, as Hook shifts from a blustering dandy of refinement into a jazz singer, slow and methodical, but without the passion or signature moves. It strips much of the original musical’s tight, atmospheric score with rich musical numbers. And what should be the breakaway number, Wonderful World Without Peter, lacks oomph from Walken, as Alison Williams circles the tiring, unenthusiastic cut-throat. Taunting him, leaping to-and-fro, a clash of children’s literature greatest becomes no more than a meandering farce of cheap camera angles, smoke-machines and a Hook who could do with a lie-down in a dark room with some Ibuprofen.

At the time, the casting of Williams as Pan raised eyebrows for some. Throughout the production, it’s evident that Williams is certainly an accomplished performer, with a dash more energy and vigour than many other cast members – though, in true American fashion, there’s nary an English accent which isn’t crossing into painfully one-note. Her attitude as Pan conveys a significantly less bratty, more self-assured Pan, aiding in the rivalry with an older Captain Hook. This isn’t to say Williams refrains from the jolly adolescence of Pan’s naivety, with her frequent ‘crow’ calls and ensemble number I Won’t Grow Up, featuring tight choreography from the Lost Boys.

A gaggle of the missing Boris brood – far from the fur-clad youngsters of imagination, these Lost Boys are instead an Etonian nightmare of school ties, Chads & Nigels. Playful, they can’t capture the essence of boyhood innocence. Most side characters suffer. None more so than Tinkerbell, reduced to a CGI blip, combined with practical lighting effects – emerging from the pages of J.M Barrie’s classic though are Mr & Mrs Darling, Kelli O’ Hara and Christian Borle.

Vocally, Kelli O’ Hara finds herself at home with a maternal beauty and clarity in her vocals. Meanwhile, Borle produces significant laughs with his physical characterisation of Mr Smee and portrays Mr Darling with such a stiff-upper-lip, it’s impressive he can breathe. Perhaps the most sweeping impact is from Minnie Driver’s brief cameo as adult Wendy, who, as expected, elevates the entire scene and has such intense chemistry with Williams, it’s a shame this wasn’t the entire show – insightful, touching and capturing the fairy dust of the century-old tale.

Is Peter Pan – Live! as bad as it could have been? Far from it, it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s fine, which in a story of fairies, swashbuckling and crocodiles is its vastest crime. What results are islands of whimsical brilliance in a sea of peculiarities, wasted potentials and obscure choices which confirms directors Rob Ashford & Glenn Weiss’ inability to find that second star to the right.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub:

An Edinburgh Christmas Carol – The Royal Lyceum

Adapted and Directed by Tony Cownie

From the novel by Charles Dickens

Instilling our most cherished festive tale, with the façade of our fair city, should be a winning combination which sits alongside holly and ivy, wine and mistletoe or the Queen’s Speech and a power nap. An Edinburgh Christmas Carol places Ebenezer Scrooge, the original curmudgeon, on the cold, cobbled streets of Edinburgh, where he may bump into a few familiar faces. In recent years The Royal Lyceum has taken us to Neverland, to Wonderland and even into Narnia, but nothing feels quite as right as being on your doorstep.

The script, largely, perhaps too large, remains unchanged. With the inclusion of Greyfriars’ Bobby providing wonderfully inventive puppetry and a few gags to boot, the story of A Christmas Carol has been stuck onto the streets of Edinburgh. Crawford Logan is, an approachable Scrooge. Miserable as ever, there’s a distinct lack of animosity, as the performance is rich and has conviction, he’s an absolute fit for an Edinburgh Scrooge, but there’s a needed edge to Logan’s characterisation. We find it difficult to buy into his postulations of the workhouse, decreasing the surplus populations and the stories darker moments. Herein is the key issue you may find, Tony Cownie’s adaptation is just too sweet to stomach. 

An overlying view of the production’s intention, and one’s taste with dictate your enjoyment of An Edinburgh’s Christmas Carol. The calibre of the Lyceum’s Christmas productions is of tremendous standard, which subverts the usual paradigms we view with a text. Whether this is Peter Pan from the perspective of Wendy, or Alice in Wonderland, emphasising the macabre outlook, the psychosis of the drama and the absurdity. An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, by extension, is rather safe. There is nothing wholly offensive to the production, it is by and large an entertaining, festive production which warms the heart which beats beneath the chortling chest – but substantially removes itself from Dicken’s, or even Auld Reekie’s haunted past.

For first and foremost, A Christmas Carol is a ghost story. And in quite the turn-about, it is neither the haunting apparition of Christmas Future, nor the nostalgic pains of Past which are the memorable performances, but rather the often-overlooked Ghost of Christmas Present, or rather ingeniously, The Ghost of Christmas Nouadays. Steven McNicoll is the quintessential being of mirthful jolly, with his red sack and ginger beard, Nouadays is the epitome of a Scottish Christmas. McNichol’s presence brings a needed vitality to the spirit realm, following an unmemorable Ghost of Langsyne, and the grim prospects of the Ghost of Ayont from Eva Traynor and Taqi Nazeer.

The ingenuity for this Spectre, Ayont, a headless drummer boy is colossal in imagination, though also in size. As his rhythmic beats echo into the night, this is the section of the tale we sadists enjoy. The warnings Scrooge endures, the fate which may befall the selfish man as he realises the suffering he has caused and the path to redemption. The prevalent issue of tone direction is at its most evident here, where the production still cannot grasp the haunting of Dicken’s classic with Cownie’s direction. As Scrooge, in what should be his final moments of crushing realisation against the sombre beat of a headless drummer, sits jarringly lost among uneven humour and awkward delivery.

This humour, which strays into Pantomime territory at times, dips from over-the-top, obvious and into misplaced. Choice gags, which should be hitting the rafters, fall short at the audiences’ feet as a few timing issues pervade. In tune with every ounce of the humour, running away with the loudest, most significant deliveries is Grant O’Rourke. His performance is distinctive, even against the choruses onstage. The moments are short but considerably steady in appearances. His chemistry with the puppets is fluid, responding to Edie Edmundson’s puppetry naturally and with exceptional effect.

Tiny Tim, as tiny, as can be, is a scale rod-puppet along with Bobby the dug, the very same of Greyfriars’ Kirkyard fame. Cownie has spliced Bobby rather well with the story, a sprinkling of flavour rather than a forceful injection of a narrative. It’s a connection with the community, and the craft of the puppets matches the technical levels of stage design.

What we have is a decent production, akin to those gifts we receive from aunts and uncles; pleasant, harmless, but fails to live up to expectations. Now, these are not the words of a Scrooge. The implication is that such tremendous talent, innovative design-work and ideas seem to have been watered down. It’s frustrating, given Tony Cownie’s strikingly sensational works with The Belle’s Stratagem and Thon Man Molière that An Edinburgh Christmas Carol fails to hit the right notes, there seems to have been pulled punches out of worry from Edinburgh’s most dreadful force – middle-class parents. 

An Edinburgh Christmas Carol runs at The Royal Lyecum until January 4th 2020. Tickets available here:

Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic