Preview: The Lost Boy Peter Pan at the Pleasance Theatre
We all know the story of Peter Pan through and through, potentially and disturbingly including the 1991 onscreen flirtation between Robin Williams as Pan and a teeny fairy Julia Roberts as Tink. However, what some of you Beasts outside of the UK might not know much about is the concept of Christmas Panto. Short for pantomime, this is a British holiday tradition, too culturally ingrained and grotesque to fully describe here. Think of a classic family-friendly fairytale theatre piece, done in the broadest of ways by past-their-prime actors, drag queens or the female equivalent, and pretty girls from groups from the ’00s. Oh, and occasionally David Hasselhoff. It’s campy, full of Rocky Horror-style audience interaction and lots of dad jokes. The public loves it.
One of the traditional choices in this genre is Peter Pan, and certainly people do take their kids to see these productions that are at best vaguely recognisable as J.M. Barrie’s classic work. Maybe not quite how the author might have liked his tale to be told.
This season there is a better option for Peter Pan
Presented by Action to the Word in association with Glynis Henderson Productions, London’s Pleasance Theatre is offering The Lost Boy Peter Pan, a musical take on Neverland that will enchant the little ones but not make adults want to roll their eyes and drink. Adapted and directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones, you’ll get your Peter, and your Wendy, and the gang of lovable pirate-fighting orphans, but this is a revisioning that incorporates classic music like Beatles tunes, done live on stage by a cast of seven actors of various ages. It all sounds a bit magical, but what to expect?
Alexandra Spencer-Jones took some time to answer our questions.
PCB: How did the idea for The Lost Boy Peter Pan generate?
ASJ: I wanted to create a moving insight into the reason Peter is the way he is. J.M. Barrie does it beautifully in the first of his Pan books, telling the story as to how Peter became the ‘lost boy’. I wanted to include that story with the traditional one of ‘Peter and Wendy’ and to bring a musical language to Neverland to create a blend between a gig and a theatre show for Christmas.
PCB: How did you select the music you’re using here, and how do you think the children in the audience will relate to it?
ASJ: Peter Pan is absolutely without age limit or indeed, limitations of any kind. It has a
swashbuckling and simultaneously moving appeal to all ages. I chose songs that focus on freedom and magic and work from artists that hit straight at the heart of what it is to be young.
PCB: Speaking of being young, what was your childhood experience with Peter Pan? How does it relate to your adult take on the story?
ASJ: Honestly, I was a Wonderland child, not a Neverland Lost Boy or a Wendy ‘mother’. Although in Liverpool, where I grew up, there is a park called Sefton Park which has a Peter Pan theme. It had a pirate ship, a fairy glen and even a replica of the famous Pan statue that stands in London’s Kensington Gardens. My Dad would often take me there and had me absolutely convinced of the existence of fairies to the point where honestly, I still believe in them. The story really started to move me properly when I was experiencing the thing Peter dreads – adulthood. The adult take on the story is absolutely incredible and psychologically enthralling. If you want to grow up you have to leave childish things behind – sometimes that includes the things you love most dearly in the world. The father/daughter analogies in the book have started to fascinate me and our production concentrates a lot on that aspect.
PCB: So, do you find Peter’s life happy, sad…?
ASJ: That’s a very difficult question and entirely the subject of the piece. I think it’s OK to be a Peter Pan type and seek adventure and wildness, but perhaps we’re not supposed to be absolutely alone. The Pan is both an adult and a child, both sides in constant dilemma. It’s a fun and happy life to live but I honestly don’t envy him.
PCB: What do you think would happen in Barrie’s story if Peter was a youth of 2017?
ASJ: The adventure equivalent of the modern age would be electronic – so my guess is that Peter would steal Wendy and her brothers to a land of something virtual. The themes and characters would be the same though. Everybody needs someone regardless of how little responsibility they want.
PCB: What would you like us to know going in, and for the audience to take away?
ASJ: I’d like you to know that it isn’t a normal pantomime, though it is accessible and fun. I’d love you to take away the memory of Peter Pan himself. It’s a mythology and fairy tale that belongs to all of us. Pan is in all of us and I’d love him to be awfully real to children of all ages in our audience. You never let him go entirely.
The Lost Boy Peter Pan is at Pleasance Theatre now through January 7, 2018. Check with the theatre about children-friendly shows.