There has always been an inherent darkness in Peter Pan, with its land full of lost and abandoned boys longing for a mother to love them, its crocodiles with ticking guts and a taste for human flesh, but rarely has there been a version as murky as John Tiffanys production for the National Theatre of Scotland.
In David Greigs adaptation, the haunting and iconic story of the boy who never grows up has been transplanted to J.M. Barries native Scotland where Mr Darling is working as an engineer, overseeing the construction of the Forth Bridge. Hes a stern, distracted but not unkind father who one night dispatches his childrens beloved dog Nana to the backyard.
When Peter Pan flies into the Darling nursery one night through an open window, he tempts and taunts the three Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael, with tales of pirates, fairies and a land where no one will tell them what to do. Seduced, they follow him home to Neverland but Greigs Neverland is a harsh and hostile land where the Lost Boys must fend for themselves, often going hungry if Peter fails to bring them home food.
The boys flock to Wendy like bees to lavender, demanding that she tell them stories and generally look after them. Their biggest adversary, apart from hunger, is Captain Hook here kilt-wearing, tattooed and fearsome in appearance the one-handed pirate chief.
Tiffanys staging is often visually very striking. Tinkerbell is depicted as a tiny flickering ball of flame, not entirely dissimilar to the fiery, molten rivets that are thrown about by the young lads working on the Forth Bridge. The flying apparatus is also always visible and the characters bounce and clamber across the set in a manner reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (albeit with the wires and harnesses on display); Peter even, at one point, takes a stroll down one side of the proscenium arch. But the production is hampered by an uncertainty of tone and a certain acoustic muddiness, whole lines of dialogue get swallowed up or are only half-audible.
Theres a lack of tension in many of the scenes, an excess of rawness in others. Peters fury on finding that Wendy has grown older is unsettling and potentially frightening (and made the young girl sitting next to me start to cry) but other potentially potent moments, such as when Peter brings a poisoned Tinkerbell back to life or the final approach of Hook’s crocodile nemesis (represented by a sole reptilian eye), feel rather rushed and lacking in magic.
Davey Andersons Scottish music – a collage of folk tunes and working mens songs – is evocative and Laura Hopkins’ set is clever and versatile, with segments of the Forth Bridge revolving to reveal the vines and forests of Neverland.
Kirsty Mackay, as Wendy, strikes a good balance, between a girl thirsty for adventure and a woman forced to play mother to a whole tribe, while Kevin Guthrie captures something of both the romance and isolation of Peter, the eternal boy, untouched by time, unburdened by memory, utterly free but also forever alone.