Review: NT Live’s Peter Pan Breathes Some Much Needed Fairy Dust on a Classic

All children, except one, grew up. At least, that is what J.M Barrie would have us believe. However, as I sat in a darkened cinema full of a mix of elderly retirees, bright-eyed children and University students all laughing unabashedly at the sight of a bald adult male playing Tinkerbell, I couldn’t help but disagree.

Recorded live in HD from the London stage, Sharmill films are screening the National Theatre Company’s production of Peter Pan in cinemas across Australia this December. As a self-proclaimed Pan-fan, it is easy to feel disappointed of late. The original Disney film remains the standard, ‘Hook’ a cult classic, but even Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard couldn’t help 2015s prequel offering, Pan. Amidst this abundance of adaptations Sally Cookson’s production breathes some much needed fairy dust onto a classic.

The mastery of ‘Peter Pan’ is in its ability to capture the essence of what it means to be a child; imagination. The mastery of the National Theatre Company’s Production is in showing how imagination can be actualised. This production makes no attempts to conceal its stage-craft. Pan and his crew fly around the stage with the aid of overtly visible harnesses and wiring, cleverly dubbed ‘fairy string’.  Cast members are even given an on-stage counterweight, members of the crew who climb up and down ladders to facilitate our heroes flight over the roofs of London.

Puppetry is also used to equal effect. The ticking crocodile with cutlery for teeth, and the great Neverbirds with watering cans for a head could easily have been taken from the pages of a child’s drawing book. Cookson does not shy away from revealing the artifice of the stage, but instead embraces it as another form of magic.

In this sense, the director truly creates a space where we can all be children again. She swaps the jungles and lagoons of Neverland for a grafitti’d junk yard, populated by old tires, wood and knick-knacks, the familiar aesthetic of every childhood back garden.

In the spirit of the whimsical source material, the NTC’s most effective reinvention comes in the  creative use of casting. The production employs an all-adult ensemble, even in the case of the eponymous hero.  Paul Hilton’s Pan is disheveled and flamboyant, frolicking about the stage in a green business suit and trainers to create that tangible state of perpetual adolescence. There is something almost melancholic in seeing a suit-clad, middle-aged man refuse to return to London with the rest of the Lost Boys, and bemoan one day growing up to be another ‘businessman’. Just like the original novel, the performance is equal parts whimsical and deliciously gloomy.

The real masterstroke lies in the casting of a female Captain Hook. Anna Francolini adopts a Jekyll and Hyde  performance, playing the roles of both the utterly delightful Mrs Darling, and the terrifying jaded sea captain. This strikes me as a nice nod to a story which is, in its essence, preoccupied with the role of mothers and women. As Peter himself remarks, “one girl is worth more than twenty boys.” Equally, the casting of Saikat Ahamed as a male Tinkerbell achieves great comedic effect. Even as an adult, the sight of a fully-grown in a tutu and wings will never not be funny.

The recording has a run time of 3 hours with an intermission and a short explanatory video from the creative directors. If you would like to experience this inventive re-imagining of the childhood classic, then check out the list of participating cinemas here, or just visit for yourself- It’s the second star on the right and straight on til morning.

National Theatre Live’s production of Peter Pan is screening in select cinemas nationally from December 2nd. Head to ntlive.com for details.