The Polka Theatre is a special place in London. Like the Unicorn Theatre, which I’ve recently written about here and here, it only stages shows for kids, from 0 to 13 years old. Unlike the Unicorn, which is funky and modern and new, the Polka Theatre remains unchanged in that cosy, lovely way that takes you right back to your own childhood.
We went to see the Polka Theatre’s Christmas show last weekend: Peter Pan. As soon as we entered the foyer I felt the nostalgia wash over me. The children ran through to sit on rocking horses and look at the costumes and props which were exhibited behind glass panels. They ran outside to climb on the play structure and basically do what kids do. Then we all grabbed ourselves a train carriage and had a snack before the show.
It is like heaven for kids and, with shows meant for the youngest of monkeys, it really is a gem for residents of SW19 and the local area. In fact, travelling from South East London on public transport was much simpler than I’d remembered; I would recommend taking the Northern line from London Bridge to South Wimbledon, from where it’s only 5 minutes’ walk (well, a bit more for the younger ones).
But to the production itself of Peter Pan, which is intended for the 6+ age group*. Artistic director Peter Glanville has set this version of the classic story in the late 1950s, early 1960s. Liz Cooke’s costumes range from Peter Pan in a fringed leather jacket to an evilly funny Captain Hook in a rather dapper striped suit.
In fact Granville and cast explain it better themselves. This clip was filmed during rehearsal:
As well as a courageous, rock ‘n’ roll Peter Pan who refuses to grow old, of course we must have Tinker Bell. Tinker Bell is a puppet, made by award-winning puppet-maker Sue Dacre, who has worked with Jim Henson. One of my favourite moments in the show is when the whole audience (me loudest of all) unreservedly cheers to agree that we all believe in fairies, thereby saving Tinker Bell’s life. The other magical high point is that we witness flying. I enjoyed the suspense of the storyline involving Hook in pursuit of Peter, and the crocodile in the clock gives the little ones a few scares.
Apart from the thrills of the chase, there is also a more emotional side to the play. In the programme we read that the set and costume designer Liz Cooke empathises strongly with Wendy, veering between the sensible adult responsibilities expected of her, and her sense of adventure and fun. Wendy teaches Peter to dance and they have a touching relationship. We end up with an interesting character in Wendy (played by Krupa Pattani), a role which must have evolved a lot since the characters were first written by J.M. Barrie in the early 1900s. It is telling that the production is set in the 195os, when social changes were afoot for both men and women.
I must add a quick note about the programme. As well as the usual information about the cast and interviews, it has a very handy pirate dictionary in it, and very useful guidelines to make your own pirate hat. It also has a recipe for (guess what) fairy cakes, a very cute page about how to make a fairy den, a word search, and how to make a fairy wand. It’s lovely to come home with a few extra ideas for activities to do with the children.
We had a lovely afternoon at the Polka Theatre. Peter Pan is a great swashbuckling adventure which is suitable for the whole family, and will not lose interest after Christmas until its run ends in February. If you are not sure if you believe in magic, I defy you to go along and not throw your hands up with the rest of the audience to say that yes you do very much believe in fairies.
Peter Pan is on at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon until 14th February 2015.
*Peter Pan is recommended for 6 year olds + but younger children can go along to the ‘All Ages Welcome’ performances.
Disclosure: We were given free tickets to see Peter Pan for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.
All photos taken by me. The clip showing Peter Pan – In Rehearsal is copyright Polka Theatre.