If it was the intention of Director Liam Steel to deliver a startlingly new spin on the classic Disney storyline, he certainly achieved it in this production of Peter Pan: Reimagined. The set itself asks the audience to cast away thoughts of the quintessential Victorian family of the Darlings and engage with a contemporary dysfunctional foster family. The graffiti-branded estate frames a narrative that stems from Wendy (Cora Tsang). Being deemed too difficult a child by numerous previous foster parents, Wendy has never had a stable family dynamic and has lost all faith in parental figures – the crux of which is displayed in her turbulent relationship with her foster mother, Jess (Nia Gwynne).
Indeed, Wendy forces herself to become a surrogate mother for her two younger brothers in an attempt to give them the domestic stability she has never known. When Peter Pan (Lawrence Walker) appears to Wendy, it is to provide her with relief from the stifling battle within herself, namely, the tension between adulthood and childhood. Steel elaborates: ‘Ultimately Peter IS Wendy. Wendy has conjured up Peter from the Neverland of her mind to take on the fight for her’. Unlike the traditional story, in which Wendy often matures and grows into her transitional role within adulthood, her journey becomes a reversion back to the childhood she missed.
At the heart of the play is the issue of adulthood and responsibility – Wendy’s escape to Neverland becomes a liberation from the self-imposed restrictions in her life. With the help of Peter, Tink (Mirabelle Gremaud) and the Lost Boys, she is able to recapture the fundamental aspects of a carefree childhood. Interestingly, the play is shaped in such a way that it becomes impossible to ignore how Wendy’s unsettled domestic life has led directly to her need to claim responsibility and control. Steel’s use of doubling clarifies this link, for it is Gwynne who transforms into Captain Hook and other adult figures of authority who double as the Pirates. Thus, the play explicitly becomes a battle between adulthood and childhood, and charts the tensions involved in transitioning between the two.
Aside from the deeper psychological navigation that the play follows, it is also one of entertainment. The references to Birmingham, both in dialogue and accent allow for an intimate relationship with the audience, who are instantly engaged. The aforementioned set, which Margaret Rees (Head of Construction) tells us is ‘one of the biggest sets we’ve ever produced’, was not only modernised but also made magical. The multiple trap doors produced a ship and a den, amongst other things, namely, a gigantic crocodile, which made the audience constantly anticipate the unexpected. Interestingly, the set was created out of recycled materials – a nod to the generation that Wendy represents, who, Michael Pavelka (Set Designer), ‘are quite rightly concerned for their future and the future of their children’. The greatest spectacle, however, is the flying. Suspended by cords, the cast throw themselves out of the high-rise flats and continue to do so during their trip to Neverland – a representation of both the magic and the freedom of childhood.
Ultimately, the play concludes with Wendy’s acceptance that she, as a child, can be taken care of, rather than always relying on herself. This translates into the poignant final image of the embrace between Wendy and Jess. Whilst expectations of the play may have been merely a reworking of the well-known story, Steel produces a performance that raises profound questions about relationships, family and the world around us.