Peter Pan at Bristol Old Vic

PUBLISHED: 12:12 14 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:30 20 February 2013

Peter Pan at Bristol Old Vic

Peter Pan at Bristol Old Vic

Katie Jarvis is transported to Neverland...

Peter Pan at Bristol Old Vic

Let me tell you how much I love Peter Pan. I love him so much that, when I was little, I used to tell my brother Id wake him in the night and wed fly off to Neverland together. (He was naturally fuming the next morning when Id clearly reneged on the deal and gone off (again) with Peter by myself. But youre never too young to learn the harsh realities of life.)

Even when I grew up as all children, except one, must do and I pushed aside my Mabel Lucie Attell-illustrated copy for a full-blown Barrie, I still adored that clever writing: the ironic tone assuages the grown-ups; but the fantasy is the mind of a seven-year-old made word. Pirates, mermaids, Red Indians, lagoons, flying. Bliss.

So Cave, theatres! Peter Pan is sacrosanct. Peter Pan mustnt be altered or adapted. Yet and yet. Bristol Old Vics Christmas production is truly the most magical of them all; the cleverest, funniest, most moving version of this wonderful play/book I think Ive ever seen. And, believe me, Ive seen a few.

It is quite a radically different version. Its a nod to the grown-ups and a wink to the children. At times, it almost crosses into Shakespeares Tempest, with its weird languages and hilarious Caliban/Ariel Tinkerbell; its Isle Full of Noises. But the originality of language, set and character interpretation would, I am confident, charm Barrie himself. They fly across the set not gracefully but acrobatically, with fully-visible hooks and eyes; they speak in tongues; they dance, they sing, they enchant.

And, as Barries writing dictates, they use not extravagance but the audiences own imagination in a way that draws you into the show: its your own world of make-believe because you have helped shape it.

Devised by the company and directed by Sally Cookson, this is a real-world Peter Pan, oxymoron though that may be. Tinkerbell (Saikat Ahamed) is a chap more Rab C Nesbitt than La Belle Dame Sans Merci; Nana (Howard Coggins), a disenchanted dog, fed up with being misunderstood and probably on the verge of demanding a pay rise. Captain Hook, in his alarming kilt, takes no prisoners.

Indeed, the cast (who often multi-task) are an out-and-out joy, who give Barries characters a new lease of life. Tristan Sturrock, at times, seems more Peter Andre than innocent boy-child; Wendy, however, (Madeleine Worrall) is woman enough to cope with his inability to face reality: the effect is half the boy who wont grow up, and half the man who wont get a job: brilliant.

Its not a conventional pantomime, by any stretch of the imagination; nor is this a rerun of traditional Peter Pans. Its a work of imagination in its own right, that loses nothing and gives everything. Brilliant. Truly brilliant.

At the end, you, too, will be weeping at the pain of having to grow up. At the loss of simple childhood joy. At the security and hope of youth morphing into the responsibility and reality of the adult world. Yet for a moment, just for a fleeting moment, it was there once again, as Peter searches for his shadow, and Wendy thimble in hand asks, Boy, why are you crying?

  • Peter Pan is at Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol BS1 4ED until January 19, 0117 987 7877;

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