13th October, 2012
Let me start by saying that this is a fantastic piece of theatre. This highly anticipated new musical produced by Harvey Weinstein and based on the award-winning movie used Leicester’s Curve as a try-out run to develop it before hopefully transferring it to the West End and Broadway.
We join J.M. Barrie (played by Julian Ovenden) on the opening night of his new play The Wedding Guest which turns out to be a theatrical flop. Soon after, he meets the widowed Sylvia (Rosalie Craig) and her four boys. The six of them along with Barrie’s dog Porthos (played on stage by a real, show-stealing St. Bernard) form a bond and their adventures inspire Barrie’s new work Peter Pan, which turns out to be a success. It’s a post-modern piece of work, with references to other literary works of the time. Secondly its interest in performance seems to be in the zeitgeist at the moment. After all, we have had a whole host of movies such as The Artist, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, My Week with Marilyn and the upcoming Hitchcock as well as musical revivals on the cards for Gypsy and Barnum, so it seems that Finding Neverland’s awareness of performance and interest in ‘play-making’ could do well.
I was aware of how big Curve’s stage was and that it is also first rate when it comes to facilitating technical tricks and effects, but I was still extremely impressed by the aetheitcs of the whole show. A moving car, a staircase, the front of a pirate ship, a fireplace that reveals Captain Hook and a full projection of the façade to the Duke of York’s Theatre in London are just some of the many pieces of set. It certainly looks ready to go into a London theatre now.
However, there are still teething problems, namely the opening (which was reworked a number of times throughout the run at Curve) which seems not as strong as some of the other numbers in the show. Furthermore, there are only a couple of songs which are memorable and that might only be down to the near-incessant TV adverts that Curve were playing in the surrounding area, and perhaps enough is not made of Rosalie Craig’s superb voice.
Craig’s and Ovenden’s performances are both excellent, with their voices occasionally sending shivers down the spine. Ovenden in particular gives a strong and passionate performance as the ever-ambitious Barrie but I wonder if the audience ever fully emotionally invested in the characters.
The end of act one featured an unbelievable pirate ship sequence and the Captain Hook/ pirates vignette inside the study which featured acrobatic choreography was also extremely impressive.
Attending this Saturday evening performance was the singer Katherine Jenkins (who was probably the first person in the stalls to give a standing ovation) and someone who I think was an American producer sitting at the back of the stalls. Overall, for Finding Neverland to have much of a future (which I hope it does) it needs some re-writes and also needs to find a target audience as it certainly isn’t solely for children as some audience members might have thought.
A little end note: For any audience members wondering whether to go to Curve, I can assure you that the view from most parts of the auditorium is exceptional.
Finding Neverland ran at Curve from 22nd September to 18th October, 2012.