“Creaky plot apart, Peter Pan’s Labyrinth is loaded with sparkling gifts for the audience.”
If The Sleeping Trees are back in town, it must be panto time. Well, sort of. For one thing, we’ve only just climbed out of our Halloween costumes. How lucky for us that The Sleeping Trees’ by now familiar formula of mashing together well loved folk tales, allows us to enjoy November and the holiday season in a whole new way. Putting together Peter Pan with Labyrinth is certainly an eye opening take on two classic favourites. If you are curious to see what happens when Peter Pan actually does grow up, and how he manages to end up trapped in The Goblin King’s Labyrinth, hurry along to the Vaults near Waterloo Station. But don’t take the kids with you this time. Because Peter Pan’s Labyrinth is an adult panto. Besides, who wants to spend time explaining the jokes to the kids when you could be singing and dancing along with Ziggy Stardust instead?
Peter Pan’s Labyrinth is the same kind of unlikely mash up as the Sleeping Trees’ 2020 Moby Dick Whittington. Sadly, the 2022 combo isn’t quite as successful as the earlier production, even though it’s fantastic to see the Trees back on stage instead of in front of the camera. The inventive energy of the performances, the set and costume design (Maeve Black), and effortless rapport with the audience is still there. Sound design (Ben Hales) and Lighting Design (Clancy Flynn) are strong in The Vaults’ rather gloomy setting. Perhaps the plot problem is that Peter Pan’s Labyrinth really is about Peter Pan, and the Labyrinth part of the story mostly functions as a way of bringing on David Bowie in his fabulous wig and costumes. At any rate, Peter seems to spend a long time finding his way out of the Labyrinth, even if it is explained by the fact that he is now middle aged and unable to fly. Not even Kermit the Frog, and random appearances of characters from Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth are of much help to a man who has lost his job, his flat, and the fairy who used to be his best friend. It is left to the Goblin King to take pity on Peter and get him to Neverland in time to stop an unfortunate wedding. You’ve probably guessed by now who gets to be the baby that the King takes as his reward.
Creaky plot apart, Peter Pan’s Labyrinth is loaded with sparkling gifts for the audience. The biggest gift is Dan Wye as Bowie, aka the Goblin King, himself. Wye almost steals the entire show. He’s too smart to play the role as pure drag, however. What we get instead is a very elegant, ironic performance all dressed up as an entertainer who can sing beautifully. It does honour to King Goblin, and it’s just Bowie-like enough to make us remember Ziggy and hope he’s somewhere cool, enjoying Wye’s performance. Wye has some serious competition in the trio of the Sleeping Trees, naturally. James Dunnell-Smith, John Woodburn and Joshua George Smith take on the roles of Wendy, Captain Hook, and Peter — and a whole host of unexpected cameos as well. The usual comedy mayhem ensues, and the audience is invited to join in often.
Peter Pan’s Labyrinth is a fun night out—not for the family perhaps, but the Sleeping Trees also have a family friendly show, Little Red Robin Hood, coming to the Battersea Arts Centre later on in the holiday season. In the meantime, you and your friends will get lots of pleasure from singing along with The Goblin King, and enjoying some fabulously punny cocktails at the bar.
“There are some very interesting discussions being had in a way that feels fresh and nuanced”
You know how I know the boxy over-sized blazer trend is going to be something we wildly regret in seasons to come? Because I just watched two girls in full school uniform and I coveted their blazers. No, surely we can all agree that the English school uniform is most certainly not enviable. So something must be terribly wrong.
But Bettina and Asha are hardly concerned with their outfit choices. Sisters in year 10 and year 13 respectively, they often meet outside school on the concrete steps, both avoiding the journey home, though for different reasons. Bettina is being bullied on the bus by a group of nasty school kids. So she dawdles, hoping her sister will at least accompany her if not defend her. Asha, however, has no interest in going home until her mum has left for work at 6:30pm. They’re not talking because Asha submitted an essay critiquing Gandhi, which her mum is taking personally.
There are some very interesting discussions being had in a way that feels fresh and nuanced. The trouble, though, is that they’re presented as a singular conversation when actually there are quite a lot of things going on. First, we’ve got the idea that within a fight for progress, history often only remembers those voices most convenient.
And then there’s the idea that social justice shouldn’t be something you have to earn through good behaviour. And within both main discussions there’s the inescapable subject of race, of microaggressions and this country’s obsession with othering. But they’re not the same argument, and somehow they’re presented as one, all tied together by yet another idea about taking action, being the change you wish to see in the world, if you’ll pardon the Gandhi paraphrasing.
Of course it’s fine to have multiple ideas at play, but maybe not so many when the play is nearly entirely exposition; we never really see anything happen, rather we see the sisters discussing the happenings before and/or after. The subject matter is strong enough that the conversation holds my attention for a solid hour I think, but that’s about as long as my focus can handle without anything actually happening before I start thinking about oversized blazers and their place in the fashion world.
Playing Bettina, Anoushka Chadha’s performance is sweet and vulnerable. She’s excellent at throwing a little lip wobbler, and she shines best when the conversation feels more ad-libbed or verbatim.
Safiyya Ingar’s Asha, however, is in another league. Still so doe-eyed about the world in one sense, and so savvy in another, you feel like you’re really witnessing someone making massive strides in their self-discovery. Bold and hesitant in turns, Ingar is masterful at giving us glimpses of the impressive woman Asha will no doubt become, whilst maintaining an honest and winning naivety.
Debbie Duru’s design mirrors the simplicity of Sonali Bhattacharyya’s script’s set-up. Besides an LED bus screen, and a brief appearance of a very excited hamster it’s pretty much entirely up to Ingar and Chadha, surrounded by a few concrete blocks, to keep us engaged. And if the play were the right length, i.e., half an hour shorter, this would be plenty. The subject matter is meaty enough to do away with flashy production value or heaps of props.
It’s frustrating to see such strong ideas so intelligently expressed and beautifully performed, let down by editing. That said, Two Billion Beats gave me a lot to contemplate on my journey home, and I’d rather that than a slick one-hour with nothing to say.