Peter Pan is one of our culture’s most enduring characters but a new festive production at Leeds Playhouse takes a fresh look at the boy who refuses to grow up.
This time round in Wendy & Pan the endless child’s traditional sparring partner Wendy Darling takes centre stage in Ella Hickson’s adaption of JM Barrie’s classic, but you can still expect to see the dastardly Captain Hook, The Lost Boys, a pirate ship and a crocodile in the Playhouse’s festive spectacular.
This production comes straight from a successful run in Tokyo during the Olympics, featuring input from Japanese creatives, and boasts a big cast who will fight and fly their way round the huge Quarry theatre.
Jonathan Munby is co-directing Wendy and Peter, and in the first of a two part look at this show tells our Yorkshire Editor Paul Clarke he is confident that lovers of this enduring tale of friendship will enjoy their fresh take.
Peter Pan is such a part of our culture with the book that is handed down the generations and through films, pantos and now this production. Why should people spend hard earned brass to see this version?
It definitely plays on people’s familiarity with it, but the difference is that it’s really through the eyes of this amazing young female playwright Ella Hickson, who has reinvented it for today, the 21st century.
And how has Ella done that?
She’s done a number of things, firstly, she’s reclaimed it for the women in the audience. The original Peter Pan is really all about the boys, and really reinforces some stereotypes. Boys don’t grow up whilst the women, young girls have to grow up really fast to become mothers and caretakers.
There is a growing movement to tell classic stories from a female perspective which seems to be what is happening here as Ella gives Wendy top billing?
She’s completely turned it on its head in terms of that. In our story, it’s Wendy’s story. It starts with her, and she rejects the boys and finds herself making an amazing triumvirate between her, Tiger Lily and Tinkerbell. They go after Hook themselves, so it’s about the empowerment of those amazing female characters in the story.
But if you have grown up with Peter Pan as the hero will you still find something to enjoy in this production?
It’s also about us saying to an audience this is everything that you expect a Peter Pan to be, all of those characters are there, but completely fresh minted, and told in a completely new and exciting way. So it’s familiar and new at the same time, and there are a few twists in the tale as when the story starts one of the first things the audiences will notice is that there’s a fourth Darling child. Audiences will be expecting Wendy, John and Michael, they won’t be expecting Tom, and that fourth Darling child takes us on a whole adventure.
This production began life at the RSC a decade ago, but you went to an unexpected place to freshen it up.
This new version really started life in Tokyo last summer where we started to create this version which ran opposite the Olympics. Because we were making the new version in Japan I was really keen to open the door to influences from Japan.
How does that manifest itself?
We were working with a number of Japanese creatives on this show for the first time so for example, we’re working with a brilliant Japanese projection designer so there’s a bit of Japanese Anime in terms of the video design for the show. But also in terms of how that influences the movement too, and we’re working with the UK based movement director Lucy Hind who has worked with an amazing Japanese movement director. We’ve taken whole characters into that world so Tiger Lily for us is a ninja warrior princess.
Some people might wonder why did you choose Japan as a place to rethink this very English story?
One of the reasons why we were in Japan in the first place is because it’s one of the most popular stories there as there’s a production of Peter Pan that happens every year in Tokyo without fail. It’s a story that is known and loved, and we’re not certainly not setting it in Japan, we are still in England and starts in London in 1908
And the original score is by a Japanese composer?
Shuhei Kaminura is totally influenced by Hans Zimmer and John Williams and all of those movie composers. It has that kind of scale, it feels like Pirates of the Caribbean. We wanted to go full out and create a production that honoured the story and honoured Ella’s script that was the full bells and whistles. That partly was how we were all feeling post pandemic so the show we wanted to bring back was a total celebration of the possibility of theatre and what theatre can do.
But really this is a story about friendship and sticking together in the face of what seem insurmountable odds.
It’s about solidarity, it’s about love and it’s also about outsiders that find their place. Outsiders that come together and are galvanised behind a cause. In our version it’s also about a family dealing with grief and that’s very resonant of the times we are in.
In part two Wendy and Peter Co-Director Peter Hands talks about some of the technical challenges cast and crew have had to overcome to get the show onto the stage.
Wendy & Peter runs from November 18th 2021 to 22nd January 2022. To book 0113 2137700. https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/wendy-peter-pan/