Peter Pan has been reinvented countless times over the years, from Robin Williams as the boy who did grow up, actually in Hook to Joe Wright’s recent origin story, Pan. But Peter & Wendy is perhaps the most satisfying spin on JM Barrie’s ageless fairytale we’ve seen in a long while.
Adrian Hodges’ story starts with 12-year-old Lucy being admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital for a heart operation. Borrowing a first edition of Peter Pan from the hospital museum, she is encouraged to read the book to some of the younger patients, allowing them to take flight from their sickbeds and embark on an awfully big adventure in the Neverland of their imaginations.
Though brave and determined, underneath Lucy’s slightly chippy tweenage bravado is a scared young girl: why else would her subconscious cast her kindly surgeon (Stanley Tucci, with hair) as Captain Hook? Tucci gives a lovely, twinkly turn in these dual roles, switching between his native Italian-American vowels and an upper-crust Englishman straight from The Terry-Thomas Book of Bally Bounders. His Hook’s a proper cutthroat pirate, too – as one of his hapless crew learns the hard way.
Laura Fraser is excellent as Lucy (and Wendy’s) anxious mother, conveying the full weight of Barrie’s belief in the power of maternal love, while Paloma Faith is well cast as a pouty, petulant Tinker Bell, who flutters into the story after Lucy watches one of her music videos on her smartphone. Our heroine (an extremely assured performance by newcomer Hazel Doupe) also dreams herself a very modern Peter Pan in the form of Zac Sutcliffe who, in another life, might have been the cheeky one in a boy band. (He even has a boy band name.)
In a story about children growing – and not growing – up, the framing device of a children’s hospital raises the emotional stakes considerably, bringing Barrie’s lyrical allegories into sharp focus as the action cuts between picture-book fantasy and clinical reality. (Barrie’s idea of endless childhood was, of course, inspired by the death of his 14-year-old brother, and he subsequently gifted the Peter Pan copyright to GOSH, so its an elegant conceit in every way.)
Over time, the lines between fact and fiction begin to blur – Nana the dog pads around the ward keeping watch over the children, while hospital trolley beds appear in the waters of Mermaid Lagoon – and Lucy learns that embarking on a breathlessly exciting adventure is not always a good idea for someone with a heart condition…
Sustaining its strong central idea over two hours (though younger viewers may find their attention drifting during the hospital sequences), Peter & Wendy is all about finding escape through the power of stories – which is exactly what led JM Barrie to Neverland in the first place.