REVIEW: Chichester Festival Youth Theatre captures the joy of Peter Pan’s tale

Hal Darling as Hook with Sami Green as Peter. Picture by Manuel Harlan
Hal Darling as Hook with Sami Green as Peter. Picture by Manuel Harlan
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Peter Pan by JM Barrie, presented by Chichester Festival Youth Theatre

The enduring appeal of Peter Pan is not difficult to appreciate.

Sami Green as Peter Pan. Picture by Manuel Harlan

Sami Green as Peter Pan. Picture by Manuel Harlan

A world where children are independent of parents and free to fight pirates, be mesmerised by mermaid, and fly like fairies is the stuff of which young dreams are made.

More than that, it has a subtext which makes clear that the sexes aren’t entirely equal – boys will always be lost without the superior strength of girls like Wendy.

Enid Blyton distilled that same sense of magic and social equality in her novels which still top the best-seller lists around the globe.

This latest production is presented by those who most empathise with the Peter Pan legend – youngsters themselves.

Sephora Parish as Wendy. Picture by Manuel Harlan

Sephora Parish as Wendy. Picture by Manuel Harlan

Chichester Festival Youth Theatre has an unrivalled reputation for delivering drama to the highest level and they do not disappoint.

It’s not just that they are word perfect nor that they bounce around the fight scenes with a dynamism of which the British athletics team would be envious.

They capture, once again, the sheer joy of the story and convey it with a crystal cut elegance which is as sophisticated as it is fresh.

It’s difficult to stage Pan. Flying scenes, crocodiles, pirate ships, and vulnerable rocks where creatures of the sea lure you to your death, are wonders for the imagination but more complex to achieve even on Chichester’s £22m revamped stage.

The Lost Boys and the pirates. Picture by Manuel Harlan

The Lost Boys and the pirates. Picture by Manuel Harlan

Set designer Simon Higlett ignores such hurdles, deploying something as subtlely creative as the book itself.

The stage comprises two bedroom scenes - one at the Darling’s House; and a second to the same construct but altogether larger and darker.

A giant wrought iron bed therefore transforms from demon rock to floating ship with the flick of a sheet and the addition of a nautical wheel.

More than that there is a hint of the truth – that the world of imagination lies in dreams, tucked between night and day.

Director Dale Rooks, who has delivered one youthful masterpiece after another, knows the young mind. It’s clear that she succeeds so sublimely by encouraging each young actor’s self belief to shine through.

It is a privilege to watch.

Lead roles rotate by performance.

When we reviewed on Monday, Sephora Parish shone like a bright star as Wendy. Wow, what a performance.

Sami Green delivered a Peter Pan of huge substance, cleverly capturing the complexity of the boy who refused to ever grow up and whose petulance was matched only by his unflinching bravery. He did not leave a detail to chance – even every facial expression reflected Pan’s inner soul.

Tinker Bell is never an easy role but Darcy Collins made it her own, aided by some clever verbal effects.

No-one under-contributed – and a roll-call of the stars is deserved. Hal Darling as Captain Hook; Alfie Scott as Tootles; Alexander Hughes as Mr Darling; Finn Elliot as John; Shannon Hay as Mrs Darling; Rudi Millard as Michael; and Fred Davis as the incredible dog Nana who ran the Darling household.

The Royalties from Peter Pan continue to support the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity – proving that Barrie’s immortal magic will live like his fairies – as long as you believe.

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