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November 2, 2007

PETER PAN - What?s it all about?

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Scottish playwright J.M.Barrie?s play-with-music, PETER PAN, was first performed at the Duke of York?s Theatre in London in 1904. PETER PAN achieved classic status almost immediately, and in the century since its premire, there has probably never been a day when it has not been entrancing audiences somewhere in the world, either on stage, or on the large or small screen.

The story of PETER PAN begins in the London of J.M. Barrie?s time, with the Darling family - Mr and Mrs Darling; their three children Wendy, Michael and John, and their large dog Nana. One night Wendy awakes to find Peter Pan sitting on the nursery floor. Peter, the Boy Who Never Grew Up, tells Wendy that he lives in Neverland, the home of the Lost Boys - and he flies (yes, flies - and not in an aircraft!) to London every night to catch the bedtime stories told to the Darling children. The Lost Boys have no family; their friends in Neverland are the Red Indians, but their foes are Captain Hook and his band of cut-throat pirates. And there are crocodiles, and mermaids and fairies ? it all sounds so thrilling that Wendy and her brothers ask to visit, and once Peter has instructed them in the art of flying, they soar over the London skyline to the ?second star on the right, and straight on ?til morning? which brings them to Neverland and adventures such as they had never imagined - adventures which are every child?s dream.

In the last twenty years, PETER PAN has become part of the British pantomime tradition. Pantomime is a musical and dramatic entertainment performed only in the Christmas and New Year season (which these days means early December until late January) in every theatre in the UK, and every community hall and school hall ? it is essential Winter theatregoing for British audiences, of all generations, who can?t live without it.

Pantomime is much, much older than PETER PAN; in fact, PETER PAN is almost a newcomer to the scene! Familiar and popular pantomime titles include Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Aladdin. These are all very old traditional stories, many of them centuries old whose origins are lost in the mists of time. In Britain, pantomime started to develop in the 1700s, with dance, song, mime, and colourful costumes and scenery. However, it was in the 1800s that it blossomed, bringing together music hall and variety, comedy and extravagant stage effects (such as flying characters through the air) - and established itself as a uniquely British entertainment appealing to audiences of all ages, combining ancient tales with modern scripts and comedy, and starring the leading performers of stage and music hall - and latterly of television and cinema. Pantomime is unrivalled as entertainment for the whole family which has continued to develop and to increase in popularity right up to our own times.

Pantomime has a number of traditional elements within it. Amongst them is the character of the Pantomime Dame (for example Widow Twankey in Aladdin) - a comedy part always played by a man. Other traditional characters are the Villain - the representative of evil, who tries constantly to lead the other characters from the path of honesty; and a character who can be typified as ?Simple Simon? - the well-meaning and lovable ?boy next door? who was not born to be a hero. It is traditional that pantomime characters talk directly to the audience for much of the show - and expect the audience to talk back or respond in some other way .. whether by booing and hissing the villain, or joining in silly catch-phrases and songs. Important too are up-to-date jokes and references - to scandals about movie-stars, or about world leaders or sports stars - all within stories set hundreds of years ago!

Because PETER PAN joined the pantomime tradition rather late in the day, less tradition has stuck to it than to some of the other stories. For instance, there is no Pantomime Dame in PETER PAN. But there is plenty of tradition there! The Villain is Peter Pan?s adversary, CAPTAIN HOOK - who is enthusiastically booed and hissed by audiences as he plots the downfall of Peter, the Darling children, the Lost Boys, the Red Indians - everyone, in fact, except his Pirate Crew. (He cannot win in the end; the story culminates in a spectacular sword-fight between Captain Hook and Peter - who does have the considerable advantage of being able to fly!) The ?Simple Simon? character is Hook?s lieutenant, who is called Smee - a delightful role for a comic. And within the story are plenty of opportunities for shouting, and even singing, along with the performers, and modern-day jokes find their way in at every opportunity.

PETER PAN excels particularly in one respect as a pantomime - Neverland is a magical place of the imagination, and so it provides brilliant opportunities for magnificent, jaw-dropping stage sets, lighting and costume. Its large chorus of Pirates, Red Indians, Mermaids, and Lost Boys provide the opportunity for lively and daring dance routines - and the magic of stage flying (Peter, Wendy, Michael and John all ?fly?) remains entrancing for adults and children alike.

It?s ?an awfully big Adventure!? - to quote Peter himself!

Derek Nicholls

Director, PETER PAN

Churchill Theatre Bromley England 2007

Peter Pan runs from 30 th November 2007 ? 13 th January 2008.

Tickets: 18 - 22.

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