If I told you that I was going to see the world premiere of a brand new musical in London and to sit in the middle of the second row for just £16.00, would you believe me? I thought not. But the Finborough Theatre (small, yet perfectly formed) holds about 50 people and allows everyone a close-up of the stage. As we are now into 2014, the Finborough have a whole season planned that includes plenty of new and old material to mark the centenary of the First World War. Lost Boy is the story of the characters from J M Barrie’s Peter Pan now that they are all young adults. For playwright Phil Wilmott, it struck him that the children who grew up reading Peter Pan would’ve been amongst the youngest to fight in the trenches; would their childhood of escapism and make-believe be to their advantage or their detriment as they are about to face one of the worst conflicts in human history?
We begin on the battlefield with J M Barrie’s adopted son, Captain George Llewelyn Davies (Steven Butler) and his fresh-faced troops as the horrors of war begin to take hold. With other men taking turns to be on watch for the night, he drifts off to sleep and in his dream, he is a grown up Peter Pan. There is something strangely chilling about the juxtaposition of the khaki green officer’s uniform and his mischievous demeanour – legs astride, hands on hips, chin up – ready for acts of derring do and thwarting enemies. There is a subtle emphasis on how for the young men who went fearlessly on an ‘awfully big adventure’ to the trenches, the warmth and security of home must have become their Neverland. Butler strikes just the right balance between excitable petulance and vulnerability.
Wendy Darling (Grace Gardner) is prim, proper and inadvertently finds herself falling back into the ‘mother’ role; John Darling (Richard James-King) makes for a likeable Edwardian geek with a touch of eccentricity. Michael Darling (Joseph Taylor) has a real gentleness to his character – he couldn’t possibly be less suited to warfare – in the opening scene I was most drawn to the sheer terror in his face. Mr Darling (Andrew C Wadsworth) is stern with a hint of warmth, but he also doubles as Captain Hook where he gets to really exercise his panto villain muscles as a devious military man. Tinkerbell (Joanna Woodward) has gone from flighty fairy to broken, vengeful harlot – in spite of her bile, she somehow manages to be a sympathetic character. The remaining cast play multiple smaller roles with good characterisation from all.
Musical highlights include Lost Boys Reunion about an Edwardian lads night out, and John and the Ensemble singing Jungian Dream Analysis, an inspired wordy foot-tapping song, reminiscent of Tom Lehrer. Act One closes with the whole company singing Once More, a song that almost feels too big for such a petite stage and threatens to burst the walls of the theatre. The song First Aid is perhaps one of the most distressing of all, not least for the expressions on the faces of the cast; for the young women who also grew up reading Peter Pan, nothing could possibly have prepared them for the horrors they would face working in the field hospitals as nurses. There is also a beautiful contemporary dance section performed by Luka Markus and Lauren Cocoracchio.
The only niggle I have (and it’s a very tiny one) is the way that this musical toys with your emotions. I mean this in the sense that as we hurtle towards the inevitable devastating end, where the audience are choked with sadness and willing to be moved, an ill-timed bit of comedy cabaret snuck in and broke the illusion; at that point I really feared that the play was going against its purpose. Thankfully this was short lived and Mr Darling returns to deliver some truly poignant and profound words: that the real George Llewelyn Davies is believed to have died with a copy of Peter Pan in his pocket – possibly the one source of comfort into which he could retreat.
This is a pertinent new musical to mark the 100 year anniversary of the First World War. I really hope it pops up again beyond its current run and I might just have to see how compares when it transfers to the Charing Cross Theatre in mid January….
Lost Boy is on at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London, SW10 9ED until Saturday 11th January and then transfers to the Charing Cross Theatre, The Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NL from Monday 13th January to Saturday 15th February. Suitable for ages 12+. For tickets and information go to http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2014/lost-boy.php