J.M. BARRIE’S PETER PAN – Benjamin Wallfisch

Original Review by Alan Rogers

In the summer of 2009 Peter Pan was back in London’s Kensington Gardens, the place where J.M. Barrie first met the Llewelyn Davies family and and where he told the stories about the boy who never grew up. Housed in a big marquee and with the stage surrounded by the audience, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (to distinguish it from Disney’s Peter Pan?) boasts state-of-the-art, wrap-around, 360° cinematic CGI projections that are beamed onto the walls and ceiling of what is essentially a big tent. With the central stage designed as a bedroom and which is converted (in turn) to Neverland and Captain Hook’s ship, the projections allow cast (via acrobatic wire-work) and audience (via their imagination) to fly above London – swerving to avoid the dome of St. Paul’s cathedral – or dive the watery depths around Skull Island. Reviewers of the production were split between praising the melding of high-tech wizardry with charmingly simple stage production values and criticising the production and adaptation for removing a lot of the emotional heart of the play (Ben Harrison’s production is much nearer in feel to the original play than the subsequent film adaptations such as Disney’s 1953 animated version).

Composer, conductor and orchestrator Benjamin Wallfisch (The Escapist) composes a predominantly orchestral score for J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, using a relatively large orchestra (80+ members) to create both the magic that is Peter Pan as well as the darker side of the original story. A magical air is immediately established as celeste and harp opens the album (“Peter Breaks Through”) and the presence of what sounds like wordless choir and flighty woodwinds maintains an otherworldly and fantastical feel. However, both in this track and the following one (“Peter and Wendy”) there’s a restraint, a hesitancy and perhaps an air of melancholy that tempers the magic. It is not long however before the score opens out to reveal the magic at the heart of the tale. “Fairy Magic” begins with an expectant feeling with sighing wordless vocals before cascading celeste and harps and swelling string and brass announce “we have lift-off”. What then follows is a sequence that everyone who has composed music for Peter Pan must relish, the flying sequence and Wallfisch, in “Flight To Neverland”, delivers a wonderfully animated piece of music that is full of wide-eyed wonder. The composer’s soaring strings (again accompanied by wordless female choir) together with the wizardry of the CGI graphics must have been a spectacle to see and hear and led to spontaneous applause from the audience at some performances. Subsequent tracks such as “Peter Saved”, the latter half of “I Believe In Fairies” and “Flying Home” all reprise this music for celebratory moments in the story.

A surprising aspect of this score is just how dark and dissonant the music becomes. “Captain Hook” begins with a slightly disturbing piano motif before it moves into a collection of sickening string screeches and electronic rumblings that put me in mind of Howard Shore’s cue “The Cellar” in Silence of The Lambs. Not an association I would have made with a Peter Pan score. “Marooner’s Rock” and “Bewitched Ship” continue this disturbing feel, with “Bewitched Ship” being a particularly dissonant. So much so that, if I had seen the play and had heard this cue I would not have been surprised to have seen the long, black haired and staring eyed “avenging spirit” of Japanese horror films such as Ringu making an appearance as one of Captain Hook’s pirates. The siren call of the “Song of The Mermaids” is a particular highlight as the solo female voice rises and rises, weaving its hypnotic spell with anguished support from a small string ensemble. The earlier dissonant tracks along with this alluring song give an inkling that this production is not merely a pantomine-styled production full of “wow” effects and over-the-top acting. The darker aspects of Barrie’s creation do play have a role here and Wallfisch’s music conveys this admirably. The score does close out with the magical rather than the dissonant with “Curtain Call”, giving a flamboyant resumé of the music heard in the earlier flying sequences.

One theatre reviewer, at the time of the play’s original run, described Benjamin Wallfisch’s orchestral score as a “splendid conflation of cinematic and theatrical sound score writing”, whilst another criticised the music as being “sub-Star Wars”. I am pretty sure than most scores whether they be for film, television or theatre could be described as “sub-Star Wars” – there’s not many that could rival John Williams’ music for this original film (of any of the music written for the original trilogy). Wallfisch’s score is a well-rounded score that has soaring highs as well as dissonant depths and even has a dose adrenaline-fuelled, percussion-driven action scoring (“Final Battle”) that, for me, has a definite nod to Michael Giacchino’s music for Lost. This album was a surprising listen and is very much recommended. It is currently available as a digital download at a number of online shops.

Audio samples can be found HERE and then click on blue arrow next to running time for samples of entire album or individual tracks.

Rating: ***½

  1. Peter Breaks Through (3:10)
  2. Peter and Wendy (2:08)
  3. Fairy Magic (1:39)
  4. Flight To Neverland (4:39)
  5. Captain Hook (3:33)
  6. Song of The Mermaids (4:37)
  7. The Neverbird (1:34)
  8. Marooner’s Rock (3:01)
  9. Peter Saved (1:25)
  10. Tinker Bell Poisoned (1:53)
  11. I Believe In Fairies (1:55)
  12. Bewitched Ship (2:22)
  13. Final Battle (2:38)
  14. Flying Home (1:58)
  15. Mrs Darling Plays (2:03)
  16. When Wendy Grew Up (0:49)
  17. Curtain Call (2:38)

Running Time: 42:10

Pale Blue Ltd. (2010)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: