The Return of Neverland is a musical sequel to the Peter Pan tale, which explains what happened after Wendy, John and Michael left Neverland to head back to life in London. Written by Joshua Davies and Josephine Sherlock, with original music by Luke Barratt, it is a perfect example of what happens when a really good idea goes horribly wrong.
The story itself could be very good. Wendy is now married and a mother of a stroppy teenage girl, Jane (pictured), and her baby brother, Daniel. Neverland is in big trouble with Peter Pan far too depressed to fly, Tiger Lily and all of her Indian tribe dead, Captain Hook an alcoholic, Mr Smee wandering around as if in a daze and the Fairy Princess Anaideia trying to use black magic to take over as ruler of the island.
Sadly, with a combination of extremely poor lighting, even worse sound issues and a cast who mostly give the impression that they would gladly be just about anywhere else, the excitement that should run through the production, and give it life, just isn’t there so, consequently, the show flatlines.
Barratt’s compositions are good enough, but ruined by the terrible sound balance. The pre-recorded backing tracks are so deafeningly loud that most of the lyrics, which are used to convey the storyline, are totally lost. The only way to defeat the relentless musical accompaniment is for the actors to resort to the oldest trick in the book – when in doubt, don’t sing, shout!
The one member of the cast who really succeeds (in his professional theatre debut role) is Jordan Kennedy who just oozes charisma as the rum soaked ex-Captain of the Jolly Roger. His singing voice is powerful, his swordfighting skills beautifully timed and, with very little effort, he simply dominates the stage.
The cast is completed by Daniel Poppitt (Peter Pan), Samantha Hill (Jane), Josephine Sherlock (Tinkerbell) and Hannah Gallimore (Anaideia) together with the remaining Lost Boys, Charlotte McGrory (Slightly), Lauren Bell (Tootles), Amelia Gillen (Nibs) and Mr Smee (Daniel Gray).
Considering that the production is billed as a “New Family Musical”, it is overly long at two and a half hours (plus interval) and overly complicated and wordy, leading to many of the younger members of the audience forming a chain to and from the toilets for most of the show and, when back in their seats, getting increasingly restless.
As a lover of almost all things related to Peter Pan I arrived at the theatre with an air of anticipation which, sadly, faded away almost as quickly as Tickerbell’s microphone, and her replacement microphone, and her second replacement microphone – and, as I leave, I realise that it is probably the sadness of being in this production that is keeping Peter Pan stuck firmly to the ground.
** Two Stars