Immersive theatre from The Guild of Misrule and Theatre Deli. The story of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Or rather the story of the Lost Boys, briefly featuring Peter Pan. Or maybe it's just the life and times of J. M. Barrie.
Neverland is a shouty musical in constant flux with streams of people meandering along the unhelpfully oblong Forge space. The story splashes forward in dramatised scenes in-between the at best forgettable singing and general crowd control. The music is performed by the cast of ten or so amidst a slightly too large standing audience of maybe 150. The rich instrumentation sneaks up and blares at you from all sides as you move around a bit, find your spot and then try and find again the show to follow.
At any one point in time, a few members of the cast carry the story forward, some play their instruments, and still others lead small groups to private side stories in the rooms on the edges of the space. There's an artificial sense of a busy hive at work, a warehouse full of action that feels rather thin. It's all make believe – and a tall order at that.
Neverland is a wish to provide an immersive experience simply by going through the motions and ticking all the boxes in production. Somewhere along the way, the focus has clearly slipped away from telling a compelling story.
The call to follow the cast in their flight to Neverland gets lost in the wind, and not only due to the challenging space. Around the midpoint of the performance, we suddenly transition from the nursery story narrative into Finding Neverland territory and well beyond. We conclude with a commentary on the Lost (Davies) boys growing up as witnessed by Barrie, with the eldest ones being sent to World War I for slaughter.
Near the end things quiet down and Barrie, portrayed by winning Dominic Allen, steps up to deliver a stirring soliloquy-cum-manifesto on growing up. Other highlights proved the officious introduction of Hook delivered by, at request, a somewhat intoxicated chap from the audience. Hook herself was unconvincing and needlessly coarse.
Puppet-Pan is a charming if a brief and detached construction. It's of course fine to make a Neverland story without Peter, but what a missed opportunity, as one of the young men of the supporting cast would have been a perfect match to my idea of Peter Pan.
The large scenes with their flurry of activity render the show at large rather incomprehensible. Action and dialogue emerges from previous scenes more as a dream sequence than a story. The performance comes alive in the quiet moments center stage, and to some extent in the private rooms in the sidelines. In general there seems to be a palpable disregard for the dynamics of drama.
Neverland feels like an inward-warming collaboration, a committee work, lacking a strong directorial hand. The creative ideas, rich Neverland imagery and emotional depth is wasted here on a story that doesn't know what it is and a faux-immersive showing that forgets the customer.