“Kissing is better than acorns”
It seems like Peter Pan had the right idea. For in new musical Lost Boy, those that left Neverland and started to grow up end up variously as gay trapeze artists, opium addicts, Parisian showgirls, miserable bankers, wannabe Jungians and prostitutes. The concept of growing up is at the heart of Phil Willmott’s new show which largely takes place in the dreamworld of Captain George Llewelyn Davies, one of the boys who inspired JM Barrie to write one of the most iconic pieces of children’s fiction but whose shadow is hard to escape.
A few years on from the writing of Peter Pan, Llewelyn Davies finds himself preparing for battle on the eve of the First World War, emotionally unprepared for military leadership yet societally conditioned with a gung-ho war mentality. And as he closes his eyes for a moment, he dreams of being Peter Pan, all grown up in London with Wendy, Tinker Bell, Tootles and the rest but now they’re no longer in Neverland, the dilemmas they face are those of humdrum normality, that is until war is declared.
Willmott has come up with a fascinating concept and one which is rich with potential ideas and stories, especially in the revisiting of such familiar characters. But there is so much layered into the show that it never really manages to satisfy dramatically, even by the ending it isn’t abundantly clear what the main theme is, the final reprise offering a timely strong clue but one which comes too late. Part of the problem lies in the WWI framing device which ends up almost as a distraction, muddying the clarity of the piece and ultimately insufficiently explored to have the impact it deserves.
But for all its light-hearted feel – there’s some amusingly low-rent magic trickery, Joseph Taylor excels in the music hall number where his Michael is able to express his sexual freedom and Natalie Lipin’s cabaret turn is just ooh-la-lovely – Lost Boy is never afraid of dipping into the darkness. Joanna Woodward’s Tinker Bell is particularly embittered and exploited (women really don’t do too well here…),and the warlike spirit of both the matured Peter Pan and Captain Hook find a horrible congruency in the officers’ mess as they both send thousands over the top.
Better too many ideas than too few, the variety in here always keeps the interest hooked and performed with such enthusiasm as Willmott teases from his youthful ensemble, it is never a dull watch. Brief bursts of Racky Plews’ choreography may well work better on the larger stage of the Charing Cross to where this show will soon transfer, but the intimacy here allows for the real pleasures of quality unmiked singing and Isaac McCullough’s musical direction to shine through.