Second star to the right and straight on till morning…

I’m afraid I have reached the grand old age of, uh, OLD, without ever making it to the second star to the right, let alone to an operatic performance. My knowledge of opera is limited to the oft-played set pieces that have accompanied various sporting events – Nessun Dorma transports me immediately back to my ‘A’ Level summer for example – but beyond that, I’ve got nothing. Nada, zero. zilch.

No more! Last night, my girl in the middle and I were treated to tickets to the UK premiere of Richard Ayre’s ‘Peter Pan’, performed by the Welsh National Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre. Of course we are both familiar with JM Barrie’s tale of the boy who never grew up, but beyond that, neither of us knew what to expect.

The WNO has really pulled out all the stops to make the experience welcoming to children (and slightly out-of-their-depth adults!) The performance started early, at 6.30pm, and beforehand the impressive public space at the Welsh Millennium Centre was busy with free pirate themed activities including treasure hunts, face painting and story telling. There are also surtitles (in both English and Welsh) which were a boon to our un-operatic ears, and for this reason I’d say that the WNO’s recommendation of 8 and above was spot on – being able to read the lyrics as they were sung made the performance much more accessible.

Fuelled with the obligatory special-treat trip to Nandos, we took our seats expectantly and waited for the performance to start. ‘Is this your daughter’s first trip to the opera?’ boomed a gentleman beside me. ‘Er, yes, and mine’ I answered slightly nervously. ‘We’ve got Wine Gums!’ interjected my girl proudly, and I rather thought that this might cause some raised operatic-type eyebrows from the real grownups around me. However the gentlemen seemed remarkably unfazed and couldn’t have been friendlier, pointing out composer Richard Ayres as he chatted to audience members across the way.

We had enough time to read the programme synopsis before the show started, and I would certainly recommend this if you are attending with children, at least for the first scene. This features a wordless romp through the Darlings’ lives as they transform from happy-go-lucky newly-weds to rather more careworn parents of three children; without having read the blurb I think this would have been tricky to grasp (though that might just be the voice of an uncultured 40-something speaking!)

After this visually and orchestrally impressive opener, the show moved to the more familiar nursery scene, where we met Wendy, John and Michael, and of course Nana the dog, caring for the children while Mr and Mrs Darling get ready for an important party. Needless to say their preparations are hindered by their children, and it was at this point that I could feel my daughter becoming drawn in to the story – ‘see Mum, kids liked winding their parents up even in the olden days!’

From this point on, she was totally absorbed. The aerial antics of Peter, Wendy, John and Michael as they flew to Neverland were a great hit, as was the ethereal Tink fluttering around the stage thanks to some incredibly clever animation. She also loved the busy scenes as Wendy was introduced to the Lost Boys who plead with her to be their mother – however it was the appearance of Captain Hook and his pirate ship that drew the biggest smile.

And no wonder – Captain Hook (played by same the singer as played Mr Darling) was everything you could want from a dastardly Pirate Captain. He and his colourful crew kept us entertained every time they appeared, until their fun was curtailed by the sound of Captain Hook’s watch ticking away, indicating that the Crocodile was near…or perhaps someone pretending to be the crocodile!

The pirates stole the show, but Tiger Lily and her band of fighters were also a highlight for my girl. She giggled her way through Tiger Lily and Peter boasting about their escape from Captain Hook as a furious Wendy tried (and failed) to point out that it was in fact her cunning that effected the rescue – this was my favourite scene also, perhaps because it was reminiscent of the squabbles that take place daily in our house!

It’s occurred to me that I have not really mentioned the music at all so far. This isn’t because I didn’t enjoy it – quite the opposite – but more that I don’t really have the musical understanding or technical vocabulary to describe it, nor do I have the knowledge to place it in any sort of context. What I can say is that though it took me a while to get my head around the operatic singing style and pared-down dialogue, my daughter seemed to instantly feel at home; also the fact we’re both humming along to parts of the show this morning speaks for itself I think.

The story ends as we all know it will – despite the excitement of Neverland, and much to Peter’s disgust, the children fly back to Nana and the heartbroken Mr and Mrs Darling – accompanied by the Lost Boys, all welcomed with open arms. A happy ending for the Darlings, though as always, we are left to wonder about Peter and Tink as they return to Neverland….

Peter Pan is on at the Wales Millennium Centre on 23rd and 31st May, at the Birmingham Hippodrome on 11th June, and the Royal Opera House, London on July 24th and 25th.

**Disclosure – we were kindly invited to Peter Pan by the Welsh National Opera, in exchange for writing a review**

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