If you were to draw a venn diagram of recent (ish) portrayals of Peter Pan author JM Barrie and the boy who inspired the the character then Stacy Sobieski's new play would fit in the middle with child-Peter focused film, Finding Neverland, overlapping on one side and, I expect*, John Logan's play of grown-up Peter and Alice overlapping on the other.
It starts off telling the story of how JM Barrie (Stewart Marquis) became friends and, after their own father dies, a surrogate father to the Llewelyn Davies boys George, Jack, Michael and of course Peter. Interwoven among these scenes of rambunctious role plays of the invention of JM Barrie the action leaps forward to a grown up Peter (Martin Richardson) talking to his old nurse maid Mary Hodgson (Helen Fullerton) about what has happened in the intervening years.
Slowly the picture unfolds of Peter's sad life and how he was haunted by his association with JM Barrie's character Peter Pan - a point that is made by the physical appearance of the character flitting in and out of scenes. It is a nice device but I wish it had been introduced earlier, something that would only have been possible with an extra actor to avoid Mark Fountain having to play both George and Pan.
It is certainly a play of mixed emotions, the lively fun of the children's play and Barrie's spell-binding story-telling coupled with a string of tragedies that befall the family.
There are some nice staging touches. Making the most of the Lost Theatre's high performance space, an ivy entwined ladder leads up to a window which becomes the path for those characters who pass away. Projections on the back wall occasionally depict what happens to characters referred to but most importantly the famous Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens makes an appearance there too.
And the stage is nicely split with one half doubling as the Llewelyn Davies' home then Peter's marital home and the other half dressed with fake grass, gravel path, park bench and a tree which is the family garden and Kensington Gardens.
There were also some nice performances. Particularly liked Marquis and Fullerton although some of the younger cast members had a tendency to deliver key speeches in an overly-earnest, audition-style, gazing misty-eyed out to the audience which I find a little bit off-putting.
It is an intriguing story and it did succeed in tugging on my heart strings and putting a smile on my face. I think it would benefit from a little bit of editing. There is so much in Peter's story that it felt like it was just scratching the surface and perhaps there could have been less of Barrie's relationship with his wife which I don't think added anything.
An imaginative production of an interesting take on Peter Llewelyn's story, it isn't without its flaws and at times lacks a bit of polish but worth a look if you want something diverting to do on a blustery autumn evening in south west London.
Peter is on at the rather splendid Lost Theatre until 10 November and tickets are £10/£12.
Pictures copyright of Robert Gooch and you can see the full set of production shots on his website.
* Peter and Alice opens next year, so I'm only surmising, but from the synopsis I imagine it is very much set around the older Peter rather than the younger.