Flight into fantasy
TAG, at the Tramway, Glasgow until May 17; Scottish International Children's Festival, May 19-25; Newcastle Playhouse June 4-7; Dundee Rep June 11-14
For his farewell production with TAG, Tony Graham has partnered writer Stuart Paterson to create a memorable version of JMBarrie's Peter Pan. Because the production is in many ways a minimalist statement (there is no flying ballet, no dog and crocodile costumes or domestic interiors), the strangely bi-tonal text shows up as never before and, much to Graham's liking, leaves oceans of space for the watcher's imagination.
Graham takes the story back to its origins, in the stories Barrie made up with his young friends. So the tale is played out by the children in a deserted playground, with grafittied stonework and a broken climbing frame. They play as children played - at pirates, at being crocodiles, pretending to fly, quickly drawing us into their imaginative world, in which all things become possible.
We get help. Jeanine Davies lights this dreamworld in surreal fashion, turning concrete into starry constellations, and shooting light from unexpected angles in irrational rhythms. The soundtrack by John Irvine is a vivid tapestry of flight and fear, storm and melancholy, occasionally bursting into surprising song. The third and no less important architect of this Never-Never-Land is movement director Kevin Finnan.
Under his guidance, the cast use their dance skills in movement unreal in its agility, risk and high pain threshold. Paul Joseph, for one, can travel in ways evolution never intended, and the whole cast, not least Susan Nisbet's Peter, impose a delightful other-worldliness on the action by their critically sharp timing.
Nor are the adults lacking in impact. Victoria Hardcastle almost melts in her own maternal warmth, and Graham MacTavish's Captain Hook is elegantly terrifying.
In all this magic, the domestic scenes play uneasily on the side of the set. An eiderdown on the floor can be a bed in child's play, but not so easily in a house where Father wears a white tie to dinner. Using a doll's house to show Peter flying to their window might have been lost on the farther seats of the Tramway; maybe a Wendy house would give a better dimension.
Curiously, the same bare setting worked perfectly in the plangent last scene, where it echoed the emptiness and desolation of the childless house.
TAG is marketing this production for families, or for Primary 3 and upward. Fair enough, judging from the two P2s sitting in front of me, occasionally cradled by their parents but always watchful, clapping seriously at the end. And the little girl at the exit, spinning round with arms outstretched, playing at flying. Adults might appreciate it too, particularly those who have been children, or who ever had mothers.
Matinee and evening performances at the Tramway until May 17, tickets from Pounds 3.50. Tramway box office: 0141 287 3900