Review by Thomas Gregory
There is much to praise about Flit, the new play by Ruby and Eva Rees. From the compelling premise to the powerhouse performance by Madeleine Magee-Carr, there are so many things an audience member could grab hold of and convince themselves it is an incredible show. That’s what makes this whole review so damn tricky. For all the things I can praise, this one big gaping problem leaves me uncomfortable about the entire play.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Flit is a show inspired by J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. “Flit”, one of Peter’s lost boys, has entered the window of a young woman hoping to convince her either to come back to Neverland, or to teach him enough bedtime stories so that Peter will finally let him “be mother”. Upon entering the room, however, Flit discovers that he cannot leave - possibly due to one of Peter’s “pranks”.
The young woman, an alcoholic drug user who immediately knocks out the intruder with a fry pan, is clearly running away from whatever problems her past brings, but finding only misery in her present situation.
The show's story is about the growing relationship between these two beings. The “young girl” is never entirely sure if she is hallucinating, but there are moments in which she hopes she isn’t. Meanwhile, the boy opens up about how abusive Peter is but also his unwillingness to become a man.
The show takes place in a single room, a studio apartment conventionally presented as a single setpiece, filled with intimate details that offer something special. Inhabiting that room are two brilliant actors, Magee-Carr and Kaiya Jones. Both are overflowing with talent. Magee-Carr is especially compelling with her charismatic innocence, while Jones captures the spirit of the broken despite having to act through a distracting cockney accent.
The sound and lighting of the show are of (in my opinion) the best kind - they are so good they are not noticed as technical elements. Thanks to these technical aspects, the audience does fall into this world, this story, and these people. If the role of a production is simply to make you forget you are sitting in a theatre, Flit succeeds above and beyond.
The problem I face is not in any technical aspect nor acting skills but in the construction of the story itself. It is in the meaning - or more to the point, the colossal chasm I found between what might have been the creator’s intention and the ways an audience could receive what they are given.
The most egregious example of this is, unfortunately the ending, which I could not spoil. I can say this: If Flit is a hallucination, the ending is darker than anything Barrie could have dreamed of. If Flit exists, then he faces the kind of tragic ending many do when they are relegated to the second-most-important person in the room.
Ruby Rees wrote in the program that “The show was in equal measure about finding innocence as well as losing it. [...] If we listen hard enough we can hear [fairies] urging us to tell stories with happy endings.”
However this play is seen, there is no happy ending.
An example I can discuss, however, is the beginning. Before the show even begins, Magee-Carr, in character, walks among the waiting audience handing out “promises”. Then, before the show starts, “Flit” tells us that, while he knows we exist and can see us and may even interact with us, the girl does not - and the girl should not ever know we exist. We form a pact, an almost sacred “promise” that we must expect to uphold.
This promise is invoked only once - to ensure the audience doesn’t react as they might be tempted to - and then never again. Except for this one moment, Flit makes no indication of there being a fourth wall, and at this moment, Flit acts out of character compared to everything before and after it. I do not think it unfair to imagine the entire, beautiful, promise, was created as a gimmick to solve a problem discovered in previews - a solution the creators found beautiful but did not stop to consider what it meant in the wider scheme of the story.
Another example worth noting may even have been picked up already by anyone reading this review. Flit desperately wants to “be mother” to the lost boys, despite Peter’s objections. This is a statement repeatedly made. Flit also repeatedly says that he fears being trapped away from Neverland because he “does not want to be a man”. If you read some sort of metaphor, or statement about the character of Flit, or perhaps of the concept of identity, then you are not alone. Was such a theme intentional, however? I could not tell you. If it was, then the creators of this play did not deem it worthy enough to explore, let alone offer the character any sense of acceptance or closure. If it wasn’t, then it highlights a lack of awareness about how their play may be received.
This is the crux of my problem: there was a major gap between the author's intention and audience reception, and it is difficult to accept that this gap would not be recognised during the production development.
You should see this play. There are some amazing performances and it is certainly a play that will have you talking as you leave the theatre. But don’t be surprised if you leave disturbed by what you have experienced, or concerned that you received more than anyone wanted you to.