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Peter Pan review: Fantastic family fun as Roddy Doyle revitalises the tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up

Theatre: The Gate’s fast-paced Christmas show, relocated to early 20th-century Dublin, will entertain parents as well as children

Peter Pan

Gate Theatre, Dublin

“I just need to blow some of the oul’ fairy dust on yis, that’s all,” Peter Pan tells the Darling children in Roddy Doyle’s retelling of JM Barrie’s tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up. In moving the setting from Edwardian London to early 20th-century Dublin, he weaves classic Irish humour into the revitalised story of Wendy, Michael and John’s adventures after they fly away to Never Land, where they tell stories to the Lost Boys and help battle Captain Hook and his right-hand man, Smee – who only became a pirate because “me da sent me off to be one”.

Against the marvellous backdrop of Niall McKeever’s set design, Ned Bennett, the director, has staged a complex, physical production that requires not just a movement director, in Jonah McGreevy, but also a puppet director (Sarah Mardel), puppet designer (Caroline Bowman) and team of puppet-makers, as well as a large crew of dressers and stage, lighting and sound technicians.

The challenges of pulling it all together forced the Gate to postpone the show’s opening night, but on Thursday evening the fast-paced production unfolds without a hitch even as the dynamic cast zip around the stage performing all sorts of acrobatic choreography. (There’s also an impressive slow-motion scene, plus a lot of transitions, entrances and exits.)

Liam Bixby gives a charming performance as Peter, the permanent adolescent, in both the playful and the more downbeat moments of the show. Hook is usually played by the actor cast as Mr Darling; here the captain is played instead by Clare Dunne, who is equally convincing as a fierce, entertaining pirate and as the warm, loving Mrs Darling. It’s a clever gender swap, raising stimulating questions about the challenges of motherhood, at least for the parents in the audience, who’ll also enjoy the grown-up humour that Doyle sprinkles through his script.


At the same time, the production stays faithful to the original’s fairy-tale spirit even as it incorporates references to Brennans Bread and to Irish patriotism – “I’m gonna die for Ireland!” one of the children proclaims when captured by Peter’s pirate enemies.

As this is a big holiday show, there’s also plenty of fun: at one point a huge inflatable crocodile is danced through the crowd; at another a glowing orange rubber duck looms by the helm of Hook’s ship, mesmerising the children in the audience – who give the night’s entertainment an instant standing ovation. It’s a family treat.

Peter Pan continues at the Gate Theatre, Dublin 1, until January 14th, 2024

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times