Kids these days: a review of NUTS’ 'Peter Pan'

Photo credit: Jasmine Ryan

For the first ever student-led production held at the Kambri Drama theatre, the National University Theatre Society (NUTS) has put together a reimagined version of J M Barrie’s classic play Peter Pan. The choice of play is particularly apt—the core themes, exploring the meaning and empowerment of youth and growing up, provide a welcome reprieve from the University’s own disempowerment of students in our shiny new Kambri Precinct.

NUTS’ production of Peter Pan is an exercise in the absurd. It has the quaint charm of a child’s stick-figure painting that one would find on a fridge and the enthusiasm of a high school debate. The cast and crew clearly had a lot of fun and it came through in their performances.

Directed by Amy McDonald, Peter Pan is a playful adaptation of the original play, with strong acting and a gorgeous set design revitalising an otherwise dated piece of literature. The choice to set the show in a theatre in the round places students, and the focus of our youth, in the centre of the action. The set is made up of many different and unique pieces made up from toys and other artefacts from one’s youth.

It has always struck me how J M Barrie’s play explores the ideas of choosing when to grow up, free from the external pressures of our society, yet simultaneously denying that right to self-determination and empowerment for many of the characters inhabiting the fictional land of Neverland, particularly in its depiction of First Nations peoples.

NUTS’ production of Peter Pan sidesteps this issue, omitting the caricatured Picaninny Tribe from their production. Instead, the play was peppered with scenes of interesting music and dance that served to connect otherwise disparate scenes. This may have been one of the production’s only weaknesses—the scenes did seem rather disjointed and lacking a coherent narrative. The departures from the traditional staging, while refreshing, relied on the audience knowing the thrust of the original Peter Pan in order to fully appreciate them.

Peter Pan is a fitting beginning to the 2019 NUTS season ‘This is Our Youth’. The focus of the play is the experience of young people as they transition to adulthood. In particular, for a cohort of new ANU students fresh out of high school, Peter Pan revisits the magic of childhood before the relentless tides of assessments and stresses which define studying at Australia’s top university.

Burgmann law students hailing from Sydney’s North Shore should take note—what do we miss out on in our quest to fill up our schedules and in pretending to be important? Is this growing up or is it a cocoon within which we weave ourselves to stave off our childhood angst and fears as we approach the inevitability of responsibility and adulthood?

Young people are often subjected to scorn by older generations. We see countless articles claiming that ‘Millennials have killed X’, suggesting that we forgo ‘luxury breakfast items’ in order to afford basic necessities or complaining about so-called traits that we all supposedly share—laziness, self-entitlement, overly-sensitive and arrogance.

Given the world left to us by older generations, it is no wonder why some children refuse to grow up. Why should they, if their parents and grandparents never did?

Peter Pan is showing at Kambri Drama Theatre from 24 to 27 April. Times and tickets are available via Facebook.