2014 marks the centenary of the First World War, a time of great change for Britain. Phil Willmott attempts to resurrect this sense of lost innocence in Lost Boy, a musical revisiting the central characters of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (all grown up), on the eve of the “great” battle. It is unfortunate that such a promising idea was delivered as awkwardly as the Finborough Theatre’s production, Willmott’s writing, music and direction appearing stilted and contrived.
The plot seemed intriguing. Barrie had produced the Harry Potter of his generation with his classic novel, but the delightful escapism of Peter Pan could not be more at odds with the carnage of the war itself. Lost Boy fast forwards to 1914, showing Wendy, John, Michael and the band of Lost Boys as adults. Enter Peter, desperate to win Wendy the woman, and prove himself a man rather than a boy. The old friends reunite to find Mr Darling a changed man, embittered after the loss of his wife and desperate to protect Wendy from a poor marriage. In order to prove his worthiness, Peter enlists in the army: the ultimate symbol of masculinity and bravery. Along the way, the cast encounters some old friends and foes. Tinkerbell and Tiger Lily feature, as well as a villain presumed dead after an infamous encounter with a crocodile…But how has the Neverlandian utopia of their childhood equipped them for the horrors of warfare?
On paper, this looks like something guaranteed to entertain. Throw in the fact that it’s a musical (as well as the previous success of the Finborough Theatre), and you surely have a winner. However, the writing itself was poor. Moments which were supposed to be funny barely got a laugh. Scenes which should have been heartbreaking (or heartwarming, come to that), left the audience cold. The music, too, was forgettable, and I struggle to remember the titles or tunes of a single number performed. The singers and musicians were both competent, but had little to work with in terms of musical genius. This atmosphere was made worse by the small capacity of the Finborough. When a play here works, the 50 seat auditorium feels electric, charged with energy. Lost Boy failed to do this, and as an audience member I felt almost uncomfortable.
The performances themselves were a mixed bag. Andrew Wadsworth was the best of the lot, performing his three roles infinitely better than anyone else on stage. His J.M. Barrie was as convincing as the heartbroken, overprotective Mr Darling, whilst his Captain Hook was gleefully malevolent. His versatility was perhaps matched only by the comedic presence of Richard James-King, whose socially inept, academic John was consistently amusing. A personal favourite of mine was his musical interpretation of the Jungian theory on dreams, which involved finger snapping and jazz hands. However, these performances were restricted rather than helped by the writing itself, and many of the other actors verged on being wooden. Steven Butler was disappointing as Peter Pan, his lines being irritating rather than witty. I found myself willing Wendy to refuse him, and send him packing to Neverland. The other performances were neither brilliant, nor awful, but left no permanent impression. It remains difficult to tell whether the blame lies more with average music and script.
Despite one or two good performances, the intensely average score and script of Lost Boy, made it dull rather than engaging. A good story was trapped somewhere in Phil Willmott’s play, but this was not the production to release it.