Peter Pan and Wendy, Pitlochry Festival Theatre ***
Kiki, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****
Late November; and with a sprinkle of fairy dust, the Scottish pantomime season begins, embracing not only traditional pantos, but lovely and warm-hearted festive shows like Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Peter Pan and Wendy, the first production of a season that will be vital to theatres across Scotland, as they seek to survive a winter of soaring costs and continuing post-pandemic problems.
It’s therefore good to report that after a notably productive year, Pitlochry seems to have a sure-fire winter winner on its hands, in Janys Chambers’s gentle and deeply enjoyable new play-with-songs version of JM Barrie’s timeless classic. The show’s main problems lie in the effort to stage a story involving so much magic, and so many spectacular landscapes, with what is clearly a fairly restricted design budget. Anna Orton’s sets – beautifully lit by Simon Wilkinson – are spare and simple, often amounting to a single object on a bare stage. Many aspects of the story are simply left to the audience’s imagination, and those visual effects that do appear – the flying, the crocodile – often have a distinctly hand-knitted feel, compared to the filmic levels of illusion modern audiences often expect.
What the show lacks in slickness and spectacle, though, it tends to make up in warmth, geniality, and powerful storytelling energy, projected by a cast of nine who sing as well as they act, and some of whom multitask magnificently, not least in conjuring up an entire crew of pirates. The main emphasis of Chambers’s adaptation falls on the perfect Christmas theme of family and togetherness, and the tension between those values and the children’s powerful need for adventure; and with Deirdre Davis acting up a storm as the children’s mother (and Captain Hook’s sidekick Smee), Fiona Wood in fine storytelling and singing form as Wendy, and Robbie Scott and Patricia Panther delivering a feisty double act as Pan and his rebellious fairy Tinkerbell, Ben Occhipinti’s production emerges as a simple and well-shaped two-hour Peter Pan that avoids some of the darker undertones of Barrie’s story, but focusses delightfully on the perennial children’s fiction themes of security, freedom, and the task of growing up – or choosing, like Peter Pan, to remain a boy for ever.
The only magic in the story of Kiki, told in this week’s final show of an outstanding Play, Pie and Pint autumn season, lay in her own magnificent talent as singer and artist; an even that, it seems, was not enough to save her from an impoverished later life on the streets of Paris. Presented as a flashback from the moment of her death, in 1953, this new play with songs by Hilary Brooks and Clive King tells the story of Alice Prin, known as Kiki De Montparnasse, who shot to fame in the Paris of the 1920s as a chanteuse and artists’ model, and became the lover and muse of the American artist, photographer and filmmaker Man Ray.
Brooks and King’s 60 minute play benefits from a magnificent central performance from singer Christine Bovill, whose astonishing voice – both creamy and sinister, in this context – wraps perfectly around the wonderful Brecht-Weill-style cabaret songs they have written for the piece; hard-edged, political, melancholy and sometimes beautiful, they deserve to become classics in their own right. And at the heart of the play, which also features a fine supporting performance from John Jack, lies yet another story of a gifted creative woman written out of history, while her male partners and associates garner all the glory; a story told in style, by a company of artists more than able to do it full justice.
Peter Pan And Wendy is at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until 23 December. Kiki is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until 26 November.