REVIEW: Peter Pan

An intelligent treatise on the enemy within and the friend without rather than the friend within and the enemy without, Paul Boyd's sparkling musical adaptation of JM Barrie's Peter Pan is a treat for the eyes, ears and senses of children and adults alike. It's lively, laugh-filled and a lesson, a smorgasbord of eye-catching colour, craft and music which, like the best Christmas entertainment this year, stands out for uniquely interpreting a seemingly overplayed but deservedly entrenched legend.

For inspiration, Boyd has looked back not so much to the best-known adaptations but to Barrie himself – to a time where, in the first draft, there was no Captain Hook, and Peter Pan was his own worst enemy. And where Hook was a woman, a reflection of Pan's distaste for mother figures, when the captain did arrive on the scene. Therefore, the possibility for nuance and enrichment in a script already bursting with invention is tremendous, something Boyd takes great delight in encouraging his cast to explore at Belfast’s Lyric.

Initially, comforting maternal instincts are foregrounded with Wendy (an always appealing Rhiannon Chesterman) and Mrs Darling (Colette Lennon Dougal), with one looking after the adventurous, rather flippant Darling brothers, Michael and John (Rea Campbell-Hill and Christopher Finn) while the other entertains them with stories of Neverland. But they are just stories. Right?

Yes, you know where this is going. Or at least you think you do. By the time Tinkerbell (a projected star of light) and Peter Pan (Michael Mahony) show up through the Darling window, we are flown away (just pretend there are no strings) on a journey to Neverland, encountering an Indian tribe, lost boys, pirates and giant singing mermaids. 

It is, as I said, eye-catching. Rather startlingly so. When you're not appreciating Boyd's show tunes, particularly Alan Richardson’s staggering falsetto when Queen Of The Mermaids, you're enjoying watching Wendy loosen up a little, the tomfoolery of a female Smee (the dependable Christina Nelson), and the heroism of Tiger Lily (Lennon Dougal again).

Where the play darkly turns is in the exploration of its central characters. By dreaming of being pirates, Michael and John forget who they were entirely - as if being who they please is more important than anything else. The duet of 'If I Could Be A Pirate', directly after the interval, is more than a little sad - for the first time, our awfully big adventure touches not upon growth, but regression and stagnancy. 

Stagnancy that can also be seen in Allison Harding's remarkable performance as Captain Jess Hook. Her hatred of children is not explained, her threat to Peter, while serious, not dwelt upon. She's not a particularly complex villain. But that's the point – were one to project all villainy onto the Captain, they'd be ignoring their own weaknesses. Believing in her, like the Darling brothers do, is equally problematic - they see colour, symbolism and superficial excitement, and they latch onto it. It may be just as simple as connecting with the right mother figure, like, say, Tiger Lily or Mrs Darling - and while Colette Lennon Dougal is arguably underused, she still projects invaluable warmth.

Warmth that Peter Pan himself, in a understated powerhouse of a performance from Michael Mahony, must ultimately find. Never mind the Darling brothers - this is genuinely someone who has never had to grow up and take responsibility for his actions, until now. And we see the consequences in a highly off-putting personality, which, thankfully, takes a turn for the better when he realises that the friends he has made, Tinkerbell included, really won't be there forever - but will go to any lengths to protect him. That's the strength of friendship and family for you, not just at Christmas, but all year around. It's arguably as John Donne as it is JM Barrie - no one is an island.

Simon Fallaha

Peter Pan: The Musical runs at Belfast's Lyric Theatre until January 4, 2020. For more information go to

Recent Theatre Reviews