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Wendy: A Peter Pan Story review – an awfully modern adventure

<span>Photograph: Camilla Adams</span>
Photograph: Camilla Adams

Within a fortnight of Wendy’s birth, JM Barrie has Mr and Mrs Darling calculating household expenses to see if they can afford to keep her. It’s played for comedy in the novel – much like the couple making a Newfoundland dog their nurse because a nanny is too pricey. But James Baldwin’s new, loose adaptation for over-sixes puts the modern-day cost of living front and centre. A bill is stuffed through the door of a shabby kitchen set (Anisha Fields’s design), where a daunting to-do list is pinned on the family fridge.

Wendy (Liana Cottrill) and Jon Michael (JoAnne Haines) are being raised by their mum (Rozelle Gemma). Wendy is bullied at school and overloaded at home so, freaky as it is to discover Peter Pan (Joseph Tweedale) in the fridge, she agrees to accompany him and Tink (Alice Lamb) to the Neverland.

That world of adventure is presented as a kind of video game: Peter woos Wendy by saying they need a new player for a hidden level and Tink is a glitchy presence in the system, accompanied by Jack Drewry’s distorted sound design. Lamb also controls a shock-headed Tink puppet with the body of a slinky (puppet direction by Adam Fuller) to great effect. Digital projections designed by Chris Harrisson blend gaming imagery with graphic novels and traditional, rollicking-yarn scenery (sometimes a little awkwardly) while the actors’ colourful costumes make the characters akin to avatars. Gemma doubles as a female Hook, channelling a Vegas entertainer, while Baldwin cuts down the lost boys leaving just a role for Tootles (Haines).

Jenny Davies’s exuberant production has some deft physical comedy, the festive Egg show’s traditional daft touches (chocolate lasagne, anyone?) and a bold lighting design by Joe Price. It comes with creative captions, albeit not fully integrated into the design world, and an inclusive spirit, while revisiting Barrie’s own play version and boosting Wendy’s independence.

However, the reinvention of Peter’s world as a gaming realm with all manner of quirky rules that flash up on screen grows increasingly jumbled and there is a clutter of take-home messages. Tink has two electro-pop earworms by Drewry and Baldwin but the other songs don’t stand out and Hook’s dialogue in particular should be snappier.

Related: Midnight Mole review – puppet’s cheery takeover of Chekhov’s garden

There are strong performances, especially from Tweedale, who captures Peter’s complexity, and Cottrill who makes an impressive professional debut. While the concept should appeal to screen-savvy kids, Barrie’s lyrical delicacy is missing. So, too, is the old-fashioned theatricality inherent in a novel teeming with “how-will-they-do-that?” moments – it never does jump on the wind’s back and go away with the story.