No longer are kids content with amateur panto (“he’s behind you”), in a musty old village hall. Kids’ theatre is big business, as testified by RSCs production of Wendy and Peter Pan. Ella Hickson’s feminist retelling of JM Barrie’s tale comes from Wendy’s viewpoint, and uses all adult actors.
There are sad twists. A fourth sibling (a son) dies, and Peter Pan appears like a spirit from the underworld. The children’s trip to Neverland is partly to find the lost sibling, and reconcile their fractured family. The mother and father flit, ghostlike in grief, through the children/pirate fight scenes. However, the adult subplot is a small feature.
The main events are joyful and funny. Tinkerbell is a voluptuous, raucous, loud-mouthed, cockney. Hook is a sexy lanky villain, and Smee (his bosun), is in love with him. Flying characters make the whole room the stage. Beds take to the air, the floor lifts up to reveal the lost boys’ den, and a huge pirate ship rolls on stage with cannons firing. The scenery is a character.
The doctor who attends the sibling’s death also plays the crocodile that haunts Hook – the personification and bringer of mortality. My son loved the way he crawled – wordless, sinuous, malevolent – across the stage, doing the splits, his patterned gold cloak dragging behind him. As the best authors know, the dark stuff is what the kids love – bring on the adult themes.
The RSC plans to put on all of Shakespeare’s plays in the next six years, with many filmed and broadcast on its website. They will make abridged versions for younger audiences. The RSC is reinventing Shakespeare, and theatre, for new audiences.