Why Peter Pan will be young forever

RACHEL BULLER A hundred years after Peter Pan’s first stage performance, the tale retains a timeless appeal. Rachel Banham looks at its enduring success – and previews its return to Norfolk next year.

RACHEL BULLER

For a little boy who never grew up, it is perhaps ironic that Peter Pan has enchanted people of all ages for generations. But the magical tale created by JM Barrie is as popular today as it was a century ago.

In testimony to its status, Jane Asher, Michael Aspel, Denise Van Outen and Michelle Collins were just a few of the personalities who turned out for a gala performance of Peter Pan last weekend.

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity (GOSHCC) hosted the fundraising event at the Albery Theatre, London, which included a selection of celebrity readings from the original story, simultaneously brought to life by The Chicken Shed Theatre Company.

It was the climax of a year of centenary celebrations by GOSHCC this year, aiming to raise £1m to build a Tinker Bell play area in the hospital's new medical day-care centre.

Peter Pan was first performed on December 27, 1904, at the Duke of York's Theatre. In 1929 JM Barrie gave the copyright of Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital – and it has since amassed valuable funds to help countless sick children.

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His tale has been a success on the stage and the big screen. This Christmas Big Brother star Nadia Almada is starring alongside Paul Nicholas and Geoffrey Hughes in the panto of Peter Pan at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton.

And earlier this year Johnny Depp produced what many believe to be an Oscar-worthy performance as Barrie in the film Finding Neverland.

EDP film critic Andrew Clarke deemed it “a magical, tragic, ultimately inspiring look” at Barrie's life.

Kate Winslet, Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman also starred in the film, which Mr Clarke said was “a brilliant piece of film-making”.

Meanwhile, the London and New York theatre publishers, Samuel French Ltd, first published Piers Chater Robinson's musical of Peter Pan in the UK in 1985.

In the past 14 years, the show has enjoyed many box-office record-breaking seasons in British theatres and it has also been performed in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and across Europe.

The work is a favourite with professionals, schools and amateur societies. In 2005 it will be performed in Dereham by the town's Operatic Society Youth Theatre Company.

Jeanie Woods is chairman of the company and director of the play.

“We have cast it and had two 'sing throughs', and start rehearsals from January 5,” she said.

“Every year the committee sits and reads through loads of different scripts. We have picked Peter Pan out for five years as one we'd have liked to have done but we have always put it aside because it would cost too much because of the flying. But this year we thought 'why not?' and we are looking for sponsors to come forward.

“I remember Peter Pan from when I was a child. And it's now just as good.”

Sir James Barrie was already a popular, established British novelist and playwright in his late thirties when, at a dinner party in London in 1898, he met Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, sister of the actor-manager Gerald du Maurier and the wife of Arthur Llewelyn Davies, a successful barrister.

Soon Barrie was a close friend of the entire family, which at that time consisted of George, aged five, Jack, aged three and baby Peter, not yet out of his pram. He developed a friendship with the boys and would amuse them with jokes, games and stories.

In 1900 the Barries bought a cottage as a permanent holiday home in Surrey, and the following year the Davies family went to stay at a nearby farmhouse for six weeks. Barrie kept a photographic record of this summer holiday, and started making his first notes for what was to become one of the most famous children's plays ever – Peter Pan.

The production ran for 150 performances at the Duke of York's theatre, ending on April 1, 1905, with a simultaneous announcement that it would be presented again the following Christmas, when it also opened in New York.

It was then revived annually in London until the 1950s, with the exception of 1939 and 1940.

After the West End London production of Peter Pan the musical in 1994/95, starring Ron Moody and Nicola Stapleton, Piers Chater Robinson directed the UK national tour and spring season in Dublin. He also produced a CD of the show for EMI records.

Mr Chater Robinson summed up the appeal of Peter Pan: “Having witnessed audiences of all ages, and from many parts of the world, caught by the British musical adaptation of JM Barrie's classic tale, it is clear that the timeless story of Peter Pan's eternal childhood nurtures our own child.

“For in the heart of every one of us lurks the memory of adventure, innocence and laughter – a memory that loves to stay young forever.”

Peter Pan takes place at Dereham Memorial Hall from April 11 to 16, 2005. Mrs Woods welcomes any sponsors for the production. Call 07717 534768 if you can help.

History of the Peter Pan Musical taken from the official website. Link: www.peterpanthemusical.com

To find out more about the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity visit: www.gosh.org.

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