Review: Dear Peter
Image courtesy Tristan Bates Theatre
To die will be an awfully big adventure!
Immerse yourself in the world of Dear Peter - an enchanting semi-autobiographical solo show exploring notions of a shifting identity through a collection of fragmented memories, a nostalgic soundtrack, and delicately comedic storytelling.
In this poetic analysis of adolescence, female friendship, grief, heartbreak, and every memory that makes us who we are, one woman will take you on a journey through the ups and downs of her experiences, as she deconstructs her identity in relation to J.M. Barrie's seminal hero, Peter Pan.
Note that this production contains strong language and references to drug use.
Dear Peter is presented as a work-in-progress show at Maiden Speech.
This show is playing at Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Maiden Speech Festival which admirably aims to provide "a much-needed platform to showcase the boldest new work from a new generation of theatremakers".
The festival continues to 16 November and there's a wide variety of shows on offer.
We've already caught Melisa Camba's Boses and we'll also be reviewing Tania Nwachukwu's The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English over the coming weekend.
Given the opportunity to review a play with a title referencing my own name seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
And there's an additional attraction in this short solo show (written and performed by Evangeline Dickson) since it's a 'work-in-progress', and it's always interesting and intriguing to catch a show in its early stages of development.
The 'Peter' in this show's title is non other than the fictional character Peter Pan, invented by the novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie.
Given the impending festive season, when this 'boy who never grows up' often finds stage space, it's a potentially timely appearance, even if that might be completely co-incidental.
Playwright and performer Evangeline Dickson is recruiting an audience member to take a small part in the show as we take our seats.
She then proceeds to undertake a kind of meet and greet with others in the audience, mentioning that it is her birthday, but I am uncertain if this is a kind of preamble to the show itself or not, and confusion readily sets in.
Once she takes her place sitting in the acting area, the connection with Peter Pan is immediately established.
In fact, the very first words of the monologue are "Dear Peter".
From thereon in we find Evangeline Dickson at different stages in her life with Peter Pan as her best friend aged 7, and then at later stages in her growing up - starting secondary school, attending her first encounter with Glastonbury and so on.
At each stage in the character's ageing we find the reconnection with Peter Pan who appears to be a source of solace and comfort at times of stress, anxiety and (more poignantly) bereavement.
But the full extent and nature of what is being implied in this continuing link with Barrie's character is not nearly as obvious as it needs to be.
Peter Pan certainly seems an emotional prop for Evangeline Dickson's character, but I couldn't help wondering if there was more to be discovered - though I may, of course, be looking for more than is necessary or appropriate.
There is a condition termed the Peter Pan syndrome - the inability to grow up - though I don't know how widely this is recognised by the medical profession.
However, I'm not sure this monologue is about avoiding growing up, though it might have been significantly more interesting and powerful if that had been the case.
On the other hand, this play may simply be telling us that everyone needs some kind of non-human support that we can summon when times are tough.
After watching Dear Peter, a play with a similar format sprang to mind - another solo show called 'Connecting... ' (written and performed by Billy Hicks) - that I saw at Chapel Playhouse in March this year.
These two monologues both include portrayals of characters at different ages - from young child to adult.
However, the similarities pretty-much end there because the themes the two plays explore are different, though the performances embody some kindred exuberance.
We find that amply demonstrated in Evangeline Dickson's performance and she has the commendable skill to swiftly and convincingly change gear, for example from humorous interludes to more moving moments.
Perhaps the essential point of Dear Peter is that we all cling to something - even characters from fiction - in our attempts to cope with the trials of life.
If so, the play's message is relevant enough, though it feels a little weak as it stands, requiring some further strengthening and enhanced clarity to make it more arresting and urgent.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Tristan Bates Theatre
Our show listing for Dear Peter
Read our reviews' policy