THEATRE REVIEW: Walking the plank with stage group’s emerging generation

FINDING NEVERLAND: Peter Pan (Alex Gilman, right) and the Lost Boys in Act II Theatre Company's productions at Ayscoughfee Museum and Gardens, Spalding.  Photo by Charlotte Gernert.
FINDING NEVERLAND: Peter Pan (Alex Gilman, right) and the Lost Boys in Act II Theatre Company's productions at Ayscoughfee Museum and Gardens, Spalding. Photo by Charlotte Gernert.
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Peter Pan, Act II Theatre Company, Ayscoughfee Hall Museum and Gardens, Spalding

If you went down to the woods in Spalding at the weekend, you were in for a big surprise.

Act II Theatre Company’s drama group took the term “touring arts” to a new extreme with their indoors-outdoors production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Director Karl Gernert lulled four sets of audiences at Ayscoughfee Hall and Museum into a false sense of sympathy by putting his “own little stamp” on a story “everyone thinks they know”, according to his programme notes.

In her first starring role for two years since playing Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods, Alex Gilman approached the swashbuckling Peter Pan as someone unsure of his future path in life.

Pan’s relationship with Wendy (Jess Toomey) and the Darling children (Scarlett Bergin and Alfie Brooks) was at the story’s core, along with the shadow of Captain Hook, a role played with relish by Ellie Davies.

PIRATE PLEASURE: Captain Hook played with relish by Act II Theatre Company's Ellie Davies.  Photo by Charlotte Gernert.

PIRATE PLEASURE: Captain Hook played with relish by Act II Theatre Company's Ellie Davies. Photo by Charlotte Gernert.

In-between, younger members of the audiences got a glimpse of parental stress from the Darling parents (Diana Chareviciute and Christopher Simpson).

Two things were notable about the 70-minute play, the first being the clever use of one of Ayscoughfee’s many rooms at the start and the end before the action switched to the gardens where audiences were advised to “do whatever the cast tells you to do”.

But the lasting memory was the emergance of new and promising talent amongst Act II’s intermediate ranks.

Alex’s potential had already been seen in Into the Woods, but Peter Pan allowed Ellie, Diana, Kelly Sawyer (as Captain Hook’s sidekick, Smee) and the Darling children to lay down a marker for future productions.

The whole cast benefited from a tight, but adaptable script, as well as Ayscoughfee’s spectacular backdrop which reinforced one of Wendy’s lines that could have been said about the entire Peter Pan story itself, “Perhaps we don’t remember the old life as well as we thought we did”.

Review by Winston Brown