There are games you play when your mind wanders in a theatre. One of my favourites is to wonder what the cast I’m watching should actually be performing. This evening I came to the conclusion that I rather wished they were performing The Pirates of Penzance. As it was I was to be disappointed, as currently running at The Charing Cross Theatre in the 7.30pm slot is Lost Boy by Phil Willmott, with a co-composition credit to Mark Collins.
The show has a cast of twelve, and had its out of town tryout at The Finborough Theatre where it opened on 31st December 2013 prior to transferring two weeks later to its current home. After a short absence it has just returned, and is taking up residence until 31st March, hence the opportunity of reviewing.
A largely excellent cast cannot, however, save this from being a very tedious evening in the theatre.
The show is notionally told in flash-back, and concerns the growing up, and eventual death of George Llewellyn Davies, the adopted son of J M Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, during the First World War, with the character of pan superimposed on that of Llewellyn Davies.
In and of itself the idea probably isn’t a bad one. There are plenty of meaty storytelling parallels to be made between The Lost Boys of Neverland, and a generation slaughtered on the battlefields of a world at war, however, Willmott’s storytelling fails at even the most basic of levels so that what should be a moving and touching expose of youth corrupted turns into an embarrassing procession of badly rhymed and mis-stressed lyrics set to a plethora of largely unmemorable, though extremely well produced and performed, musical numbers which puncture the evening like a naughty boy poking a stick at a pigs lung on a butchers block.
As ever those three questions – Whose story is it? What do they want? And what’s stopping them from getting it? – are never successfully answered, so we are unable to invest our emotional capital. I was bored. My partner actually fell asleep, in spite of World War One being played out on stage in front if us.
The whole thing was a missed opportunity, which not only makes me sad, but angry. Presumably a raft of theatre professionals and people with money just didn’t notice the flaws as the piece took shape, and even worse, haven’t tried to rectify them in the past two months since the show first opened?
As a writer you can be rude, you can be controversial, you can be crass, you can be clever, you can be inspired, and I’d go so far as to say that Lost Boy touches on all of these at some point or another. However, the one thing that you must be able to do is engage your audience, and that is the one hurdle where Lost Boy falls miserably flat.
However, having said that, the production values are simple, but well executed. Philip Lindley’s production design works well with Sophia Simensky’s period costumes, and the whole is well lit by Mike Robertson.
The cast are led by West End regular Andrew C Wadsworth in a range of roles from J M Barrie through to Captain Hook, and as ever, he excels in them all.
The part of Davies/Peter is played with gusto by Steven Butler, who is likeable and well cast, though I feel the one person I should highlight is Joseph Taylor whose commendable lyricism brought a genuine freshness and vulnerability to his role as (the gay lost boy who grows up to be a music hall artiste!) Michael. One to watch, especially as he has a very musical through line, and excellent breath control. Mind you, he also had just about the best song in an otherwise undistinguished offering.
One final thing. One of the big tunes does have an unfortunate relationship to the title song of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies….I’m sure it was unintentional, but again, why has no one done anything about it? Especially as it features so heavily in the finale…
On the evidence of tonight, Mr Willmott seems to be a much better director than he is a writer. I hope this show serves to show him that this is the case.