NeverLand, Vault Festival

Michal Ish-Horowicz in Neverland (Photo credit: Helen Maybanks)

Following the success of their immersive Gatsby musical last year, The Guild of Misrule have once again taken up residence in the Waterloo Vaults with another immersive musical tale. This time the source material is JM Barrie’s enduring classic, Peter Pan, although this adaptation is definitely not intended for children. Rather than a straight adaptation of the story of Peter Pan, the show is a retelling of the life of the ‘real-life Peter Pan’, Peter Llewelyn Davies.

As the show begins, the audience are ushered into a large central space where the story begins. It’s initially unclear to what degree the show is ‘immersive’ – occasionally audience members are asked to dance or participate briefly in scenes, which may be worth warning about if you’re of a shy disposition. Eventually the action diversifies, and parts of the audience are led away by cast members to smaller, more lavishly-decorated spaces, where scenes unfold in parallel with the rest of the show. The use of these spaces, and the commendable imagination and effort involved in creating them, create the more magical moments of the evening, even if the scenes there suffer due to a lack of amplification, as well as audio bleed-through from the scenes happening elsewhere.

Ultimately the production feels chaotic and disjointed, with the narrative particularly difficult to follow, owing in no small part to the lack of microphones in so large a space. The evening is peppered with musical numbers, performed with gusto by a cast of multi-instrumentalists, and while many of them are tuneful, they often end up feeling like brief diversions, rather than being naturally integrated into the story. The show closes on a more coherent note, with a powerful, if overlong, appeal to the younger generation to fight the injustices left behind by the previous generation’s excesses – a pertinent message for today if ever there was one. And the striking visual tableau and song that close the show are a powerful moment of the magic that is unfortunately lacking in the rest of the piece. The show is admirably ambitious, but it’s hard not to feel that a narrower focus would have stopped its reach from exceeding its grasp.

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