Soaring at the Helm

On the Rocks Review: Peter Pan

The Byre Theatre, 22 April 2011

Rating: * * * *


From the moment of walking into the main auditorium of the Byre, there was magic in the air. For one thing, this matinee performance was family heavy in terms of audience and the laughter and chatter of children throughout the theatre set the perfect ambience. Children are not an easy audience, yet Peter Pan captivated the many expectant faces surrounding me. The iconic moment of audience participation to spare the life of Tinkerbell enchanted the children, and allowed the older members of the audience to revel in the magic.

With a cast of 30, there could easily have been moments of utter confusion, but the story was always told clearly, with every single actor on stage fully committing to their role. With a wonderful set designed by Andrew Muir, the play moved swiftly from the cosy atmosphere of the Darling children’s bedroom to the wonder of Neverland. The transitions were smooth, with a very competent Kelly Diepenbrock stage managing. The somewhat terrifying prospect of flying children was a talking point of the show, and yet there was nothing to be afraid of, and the joy of seeing characters flying across the stage made the entire show.

Beth Robertson’s touching performance as Peter Pan held the show together, with an equally moving performance from Lucy Gillam as Wendy. The children, John and Michael – played by Guy Wade and George Lorimer respectively – had wonderful energy and comic timing, and lifted the entire play. Lorenzo De Boni’s Smee worked perfectly alongside an evil Hook (Sebastian Carrington-Howell), and the Darling parents (Joe Potts and Kristine Erwin) were pitch-perfect. Susie Coreth’s physicality as Nana was wonderful and engaged the audience from the second the play began. With the incredibly talented Jonathan Durie and Vicki Grace at the helm, Peter Pan was never going to be anything other than a success; however, the sheer magic of the performance was unexpectedly lovely.


Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie

Image by James McDonald



  1. I was in the audience at the matinee performance, sat amongst parents and children and students and it was so lovely to walk out in the interval and see kids completely enthralled by what they had just seen and eager to go back in and find out what had happened to Pan. At the end I overheard one man say to his wife (or at least I assume it was his wife!) ‘well we’ll have to come and see more of this St Andrews stuff’. Reviews have their place, I agree with that – but I’m glad to see that Peter Pan was enjoyed by so many members of the public and that it’s encouraged them to see more St Andrews theatre.

  2. I have to disagree with Matt’s assertion that Cat’s opinion was invalid due to Peter Pan being a ‘paying show at a festival’. I find it hard to believe that 7 months of planning, 13 weeks of set-building, hours of rehearsal and 100 years of Peter Pan equates to the £5 he shelled out for his ticket. The fact that we loved doing it, made great friends and achieved something we are really proud of is invaluable, even if Matt doesn’t believe it was worth it.

    I would also love a Pinter season.

  3. The review is not positive merely because Miss Cannon-Brownlie was also involved in OTR. Being the director of King Lear does not make her more sympathetic to Peter Pan than anyone else involved in the Festival; she is more professional than that. I have heard Miss Cannon-Brownlie’s opinions on many plays in St Andrews and I can assure you that if she does not like a production, she will not pretend that she does. As a director she welcomes criticism so that she may learn; so of course she is more than willing to offer that to her fellow students. It happened that this show was one that she liked.

    In the Theatre section, we make a point of emphasising to our writers that they should be honest about a production, even if they know the people involved; which is inevitable in the theatre scene in St Andrews. Unfortunately, I had to give another OTR production a critical review; I felt bad about it because my friends were involved, but at the end of the day that was how I felt, and for the sake of writing the review I had to pretend I did not know them. Having said that, I would like to defend Mr Betts’s opinion on the show (bar the financial speculation which he has already apologised for), and thank him. He is perfectly entitled to dislike a show, and he gives a substantial argument to support his view.

    As I never got to see the show myself, I am intrigued by both points of view. If people all had the same tastes in drama then the theatre would be very dull.

  4. Thank you Mackie and Emmet for saying what – at 2am on the morning of an essay submission – I didn’t have the patience to say. Indeed, what should have been moderated in the first place by the Tribe should have amounted to a critical appraisal, and let’s be honest, probably shouldn’t have been written by the Director of the other ‘headline show’ of On The Rocks – King Lear.

    The matter of the Budget is neither here nor there. In writing my above comment, I intended to reiterate the facts as I saw and understood them. I wholeheartedly apologise for not asking the Peter Pan team for a definite figure. In the end, I chose a ball-park figure that sat to be quite honest in the middle of an astonishing collection of ‘Budgets’ that I had heard of up to that point. Ultimately, it was an expensive show, and I thought it simply didn’t live up to its position as the headline act of a historically successful Arts Festival, produced by a team that has done phenomenally well in the past.

    We have learnt nothing save for the confirmation that little has been done here to distract anyone from the suggestion that Mermaids are a cliquey bunch. The mistake was made when a Director of a show engaged in the same festival wrote this review, and additionally – I’m sorry Cat, I’ve had a great time here in St Andrews too – it doesn’t matter whether it was all a lovely barrel of laughs; it was a paying show at a festival.

    Mr. Potts, I’d welcome a Pinter Season. He writes substantially better plays than Mr. Barrie.

  5. Having been in Peter Pan, I thoroughly enjoyed it. That said if anyone didn’t, well heck, they’re entitled to their views. Art prompts debate or some such, comment is free. Please don’t get het up over a matter of opinion. If all plays here prompted universal consensus then things would become rather dull and we’d probably end up doing perpetual runs of Harold Pinter which is a grim prospect.

  6. The expression on a child’s face may or may not have made you feel like all the effort put into a show was ‘worthwhile’, but that alone does not make for a good show.
    I’m not saying it wasn’t worthwhile. I’m not saying the 50 or 60 people involved didn’t have a great time, but to say that these things ought to make you immune to criticism for the end product is absurd.
    Being the headline show of the largest student arts festival in the country, there ought to be a lot more care taken to make sure it is of a high calibre.
    I should be clear that I was unable to attend any of the performance dates, I am disappointed that I couldn’t, so I don’t intend to pass any judgement on the show itself.
    But the reaction to Matt’s expressed opinion, in a comment on an article of another’s expressed opinion is ridiculous.
    If you can’t make a negative opinion public in this town then what value does a 4-star review even have?

  7. I must object to Ms. Slater’s comments, and from the general tone that the discussion has taken. Mr. Betts
    comments do not reflect a negative attitude towards the constituent members of the Peter Pan production staff, it’s cast, On The Rocks, or Mermaids in general. The airing of an opinion does not constitute “publically hurt[ing] your friends” When has it become acceptable to equate dissent with disloyalty?

    In the interest of full disclosure, I must state that I agree, for the most part, with Mr. Betts’ comments about the production in question. I had refrained from airing them “publicly” out of respect, but this hostility towards Mr. Betts has prompted me to air them. However, even if I disagreed, I would defend his right to say them. Frankly, this entire chain of events has me wondering if the theatrical society in St. Andrews is some kind of bubble (if you will pardon the expression), where all involved must believe that they are talented artists and creative individuals. All must be good directors, compelling actors, etc. Were anyone to challenge this belief, the entire house of cards comes tumbling down. And when someone, for perfectly valid reasons, states that they did not enjoy a show, then the knives come out and we start looking for blood.

    I myself recently directed a play for OTR (52, if anyone’s interested. If you saw it, thank you! If you didn’t, you know who you are), and personally, I would welcome this kind of honesty about my own production. I would much rather someone be honest with me about the nature of my show, than lead me false and blow the proverbial smoke up my proverbial ass. Honesty is the best virtue, and to attack a man for being so is cowardly.

    I expect that the preceding will earn me no friends, and will burn many bridges, but it must be said. We must not confuse creator for creation, and we must not be so fearful of insult that we silence ourselves out of a misguided sense of duty.

  8. You’re still here? Show’s over.

    Go home. Go.

  9. “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.” (J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan)

    That’s where you can get off, Matt Betts…

  10. He died Matthew. He was delicious. You are next. Tick tock tick tock tick….

  11. Whilst I like that people review shows and have their own thoughts on what they see, I’d like to remind everyone that what we do here is for our pleasure- in putting shows on, making audience members enjoy them and overall having a great time making new friends and working as a team. With over 50 people involved in the production of Peter Pan, whether producing, directing, acting or teching, I think that whatever opinions may be expressed on the show in conversation, it is not necessary to publically hurt your friends in a comment in a student magazine. This show was a combination of hard work and talent by numerous people who all had a great time, and when it comes down to it- how effective is it to upset these people who put months of effort into something they really enjoyed doing?
    We all love St Andrews, we love putting on shows, and we all support each other by coming to see our friends’ shows and helping out when we can. Isn’t friendship the most important element, and isn’t that what we should take away with us afterward? I’ve personally had a phenomenal time being involved in shows at St Andrews, and think it’s important to recognise that whilst we’re at university, they’re not about the serious and professional, they’re about the experimental and enjoyable aspects. So to all those who have more time left here than I do- having fun is what counts. And to the Peter Pan team- the expressions on those little kids’ faces in the audience when the actors flew or the moment they screamed that they believed in fairies really made the show worthwhile in every respect. Whoop.

  12. On behalf of the team behind Peter Pan, I would like to thank everyone for their feedback. With regard to the financial position of the production I would like to clarify that the figure stated above is incorrect and far exceeds our total funding, which came from Mermaids and the University 600th Fund. Should anyone wish to receive a more detailed breakdown of our expenditure, then these are readily available by emailing the Producer (me) on vg34.

  13. I’m afraid four stars is generous for what I thought was an underwhelming, languid and confusing show.

    The play was plagued by a number of errors from the outset: some technical, some directorial, some theatrical. For examples; volume was a problem across the board (most lines were thrown to the back of the stage or the wings); Beth Robertson’s Pan showed little, if any, spirit, and ran her lines at a terrific speed, barely audible as a consequence; a badly cast Hook verged on the pantomimic, most memorably walking off stage mid-crocodile burp (did he die at that point – I just don’t know?)

    Following the recent ferrago initiated by the reisgnation of a Mermaids Committee member in light of supposedly nefarious wheelings and dealings behind closed Mermaids doors, the only question I have of the Team behind Peter Pan is this: Where the hell did £9,000 go? (Or, however much your budget boasted – I get a different answer every time). And yes, I know that it costs £3,000 to fly the actors and the Byre is an expensive venue, but it is clear to me that this show had unnecessarily large amounts of money thrown at it and was symptomatic of simply not being sufficiently rehearsed.

    Joseph Potts’ Mr Darling, Lorenzo De Boni’s Smee, and the impressive set were all rare moments of light in an otherwise disappointing effort.