During the early years of the Space Race NASA spent millions of dollars and several years on the research and development of a pen that would defy zero gravity and write in space. They launched it at a conference amidst much pomp and circumstance. The chief of the Soviet delegation was suitably impressed and congratulated his competitors for their invention, brilliance and ingenuity before taking a pencil from his top pocket and putting it on the table in front of him.
It's hard to talk about Peter Pan which had it's press night at the Neverland Pavilion in Kensington Gardens last night.
The acting isn't bad at all and the company are working overtime to give the show life and vitality... but watching it you can't help but sense that the battle is being lost and on a number of misconceived fronts.
Firstly the mega bucks technology reduces every performance - even larger than life Jonathan Hyde as Hook - to bit parts in a huge visual son illuminare that, whilst breathtaking at times, such as during the flight over Edwardian London, is too often expensive wallpaper rather than intrinsic to the story.
The spectacle was, however, wonderfully subverted by one guerilla child who worked out where the lights were hiden and had some fun projecting huge shadow puppets of wolves and butterflies onto the set. She was swiftly ushed back to her seat. Later on a fly walked across a lens creating a monstrous beast that inadvertently and immediately captivated the slightly restless audience.
A second problem is that the adapted script lacks a clear voice - Is it for kids? Is it for adults? Is it urban chic? Is it clipped Kensington prose? In reality it has little sense of continuity, is occasionally vulgar, and feels as if it's been pulled from pillar to post - too many chiefs not enough lostboys? Caught up with this is a confusion as to whether we're watching a pantomime or a beautifully crafted play for children? The pumped acting style seems to call for a level of interaction, which is then never actually unleashed, but the staging, which rarely brings actors into direct contact with the audience suggests that we should sit in passive wonder. Were there spirits to enforce or art to enchant this wouldn't matter but without either playfulness or magic - the evening is a flat experience.
There are some good moments - Tinkerbell sets a cue for what the show might have been as an atomic Spanish punk with DM's, a tutu and fairy lights entwined in her back combed hair and there's a wonderful crocodile, expertly engineered from a tandem bicycle and skillfully operated by two pyjama clad puppeteers who peddle like mad as it comes roaring into the round.
For the producers, though, it's the syndrome that every parent must dread - huge investment on a state of the art toy - when secretly children are pulled imaginatively to creating stories from the cardboard box it came in. The only bright spot is that a huge risk averse corporate exercise like this, in a royal park and a tourist filled summer, might just make little mountains of money to plough back into the industry... but every time another £1,000 is grossed a back combed fairy somewhere will die.