Saturday 18 January 2014

Lost Boy @ Charing Cross Theatre

"I wanted to kick things off by exploring an aspect of the conflict that particularly fascinates me - the death of innocence", explains writer/director Phil Willmott in his Director's Note.  His new musical, Lost Boy, reimagines J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan within WWI, using adult rather than child characters.  It's a sound concept that could have drawn clever, sinister parallels between war and a children's story.

In Willmott's hands, however, Lost Boy is a theatrical mess.  The confused plot blurs fantasy and reality in a bizarre mix that sees the plot introduced by the author himself and soldiers dreaming of an alternative reality that parallels the classic tale.  This might be based on a children's story, but the script is overtly childish in both dialogue and song, with shoddy innuendo and clunky rhymes.  The 'lost boys' are immature men who discuss farting and sex, their only threat being an STD from a Parisian prostitute ("ooh la la"), whilst a whoreish Tinkerbell seduces Pan and commands him to "release the beast inside".  This is the sort of script where "I have a bad feeling about this" is considered high drama.

Added to this is a gay subplot shoehorned in unnecessarily, with one character running away from his disapproving father to the circus (it's WWI, of course he disapproves).  There's even room for some Jungian pop psychology ("dreamy!"), with one jazz number imploring us not to "be a Freud".  It all culminates in a high kicking cabaret number in which the pantomime villain Hook is shot, before (spoiler alert!) it was all just a dream.  It quite simply makes an insensitive mockery of some tragic themes.

Then there's the score, which combines music hall with contemporary song.  Through ballad after ballad, Willmott and his co-composer Mark Collins display a predilection for melodic suspensions that make little harmonic sense and plenty of hackneyed modulations.  The minimal orchestra also need to become acquainted with a tuning fork.

Given the right material the cast could succeed.  As it stands, Grace Gardner as Wendy is the only cast member to offer some impassioned singing - but of course her romantic reminiscence number in the second act is distractingly accompanied by some expressive dance.  And that's not the only number with clichéd choreography - cheesy is an understatement.

Everything about Lost Boy screams amateurish.  Not only is this a shoddy musical in itself, it makes a mockery of WW1 and Barrie's legacy.  It certainly won't be empowering any "insecure teenage boys" as Willmott has predicted.


Watch: Lost Boy runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until the end of January.