Last week I journeyed to Neverland... That is, I made a trip to the outstanding, new production of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. (Check out my five star review) It got me to thinking about our ongoing love for the boy who never grew up and the fantasy of Neverland itself. What gives this tale its endless longevity?
Certainly in the world of film and theatre, Peter Pan is undoubtedly en vogue at the moment. Not only can we enjoy Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel's wildly imaginative outdoor production here in London, but on the other side of the Atlantic, Broadway audiences are flocking to the musical adaptation of the 2004 Miramax film Finding Neverland. Flying the British flag in that production are both Olivier Award winner Laura Michelle Kelly (a.k.a Mary Poppins) as Sylvia Llewelyn Davis and BRIT Award winner Gary Barlow, who has provided the music and lyrics. Although Broadway critics and the Tony nominations committee were perhaps less than kind to Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's first Broadway contribution, Finding Neverland is proving to be a real crowd favourite over the pond. Indeed a social media backlash was set into motion after the musical failed to garner any Tony nominations for this year's ceremony. However, despite this and perhaps due to popular demand, TV stars Matthew Morrison ('Glee') and Kelsey Grammer ('Frasier'), along with the rest of the cast, will perform at the awards ceremony in New York on Sunday 7th June 2015.
For cinema lovers, perhaps one of this year's biggest blockbusters will be Warner Bros.' epic Pan - an origin story of Peter Pan and Captain Hook. The film is due for release in the UK on 16th October 2015 and stars Levi Miller as Peter, alongside Garrett Hedlund as James Hook. For a touch of added Hollywood star power, Hugh Jackman and Amanda Seyfried have also been cast as Blackbeard and Mary Darling, respectively.
But this trend of Neverland-inspired productions is, of course, no new affair. J.M. Barrie's infamous characters first came to life in his 1904 stage play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (although Peter did make a previous appearance in his 1902 novel 'The Little White Bird') and then again, in his 1911 novel 'Peter and Wendy.' The aforementioned play was a huge hit at the time and ran from 1904 to 1913 in London. Peter Pan went on to make his silver screen debut in 1924 in a silent movie by Paramount Pictures, and that same year he also made his Broadway debut in a stage adaptation, which included music by Jerome Kern. He has been a regular on stage and screen ever since.
One of my all-time favourite films is Steven Spielberg's 1991 classic Hook, starring the late greats Robin Williams and Bob Hoskins, as well as Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts and Dame Maggie Smith. I also was fortunate enough to attend a terrifically creative production of Peter and the Starcatcher - an origin story - at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre in 2012. One of the producers of that play was Disney Theatrical, and 'The House of Mouse' is undoubtedly a huge factor in bringing Barrie's characters to new generations of children over and over again - from its 1953 animated classic Peter Pan, to its less popular 2002 sequel Return to Neverland and now with its ongoing Tinker Bell movie franchise.
Peter Pan's longevity may be due to the desire in many of us adults to hold onto the child within - the desire to live a care-free existence, in which we can escape the tiresome responsibilities of adulthood. Peter embodies this fantasy, whilst Wendy reminds us of the inevitable reality of growing up. There is a plethora of characters, created by Barrie, with whom children and adults alike can identify. Comic relief from Mr. Smee, girlish stubborness from Tinker Bell, maternal instinct from Wendy, the villainous charisma of Captain Hook - there is something for everyone. And of course, who hasn't had a dream in which they can fly? That fantasy, like Neverland, will never die.
If you get the chance, get yourselves down to the Open Air Theatre and let yourselves be entertained by this magical and very British institution this Summer!
J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan is booking through to 14 June 2015 at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park.
Editor at Londontheatre.co.uk & NewYorktheatreguide.com