REVIEW: Peter Pan, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre until December 31.

Peter Pan - photo by Manuel Harlan
Peter Pan - photo by Manuel Harlan
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It’s easy to think “Oh no, here we go again” at the thought of yet another Peter Pan – uncharitable thoughts instantly banished by Chichester Festival Youth Theatre.

With huge imagination and invention, they offer a whole new take it on it all which is as bold as it is skilled, as exciting as it is enjoyable.

If you think you’ve seen enough Peter Pans for a lifetime, then think again. Costume designer Ryan Dawson Laight ditches all whiff of Disney and takes the tale back to exactly where it ought to be. We’re no longer in the realm of the big film studio; instead, much more appealingly, we’re seeing it all through children’s eyes, the perfect starting point from which scores of young actors proceed to weave a very special magic. Consequently, the whole thing has a much more contemporary feel – and a much greater immediacy.

Sami Green was Peter Pan on Monday night, a Peter who is no longer a fey little creature in green, but an impetuous and excitable adolescent, a youngster who manages to be both stroppy and hugely likeable – and who really does touch our hearts with his refusal to grow up.

Green paints a glowing picture of the fun to be had. Childhood itself is the great adventure, and Peter is determined to cling on to it, aided by the stand-in mother he drags in from the real world, a little girl named Wendy, played on Monday by Sephora Parish in the night’s stand-out performance.

Sephora’s naturalness on stage comes through in her expressiveness. She makes us feel we are with her every step of the way on the bonkers adventures which come crashing through her window.

Shannon Hay as Mrs Darling and Alexander Hughes as Mr Darling offer the perfect mix of tenderness and humour, while Rudi Millard as Michael and Finn Elliot as John are willing participants in the crazy tale that unfolds.

Darcy Collins is great fun as Tinker Bell, again highly expressive as mischievousness turns to malice and then redemption. Just as impressive is Hal Darling as a distinctly-Shakespearean Captain Hook, light years from the usual villain – and all the better for it.

This is a clever, richly-imaginative production, breathing new life into a tale we thought we all knew. As ever, director Dale Rooks excels, not just in her of her vision but also in her ability to allow young talents to flourish, gaining the confidence to achieve precisely the stage presence we see here tonight.

Even those with little to say in the production still invest their characters with character. You sense their enjoyment; the teamwork flows from it; and the result is outstanding. Another year, another triumph.

Phil Hewitt

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