Tuesday, January 25

From Japan to Leeds Playhouse – Rupert Hands

The annual festive shows at Leeds Playhouse have become must see spectaculars for theatre lovers across West Yorkshire and this year they recruited a massive cast to rethink the legend of Peter Pan

Wendy & Peter offers a new spin on the JM Barrie classic as writer Ella Hickson has decided to tell the story through Wendy Darling’s eyes, but audiences can rest assured it’s still going to be a rollicking tale of a battle in Neverland with the dastardly Captain Hook full of flying, fighting and fun.

This version of the beloved tale of the boy who won’t grow up started life at the Royal Shakespeare Company and has just returned from a critically acclaimed run in Tokyo. There the creative team added an epic score by Japanese composer Shuhei Kamimura and added some Anime video design.

As it is such a big cast there are two directors running the production, and in the second of our Wendy & Peter interviews one of them Rupert Hands tells our Yorkshire Editor Paul Clarke about how he is helping the cast fly and making sure the massive fight scenes are spectacular but safe.

It’s still unusual to have co-directors on a production so what was your thinking there?

We are always running at least two rooms, if not three, we are working a flying sequence downstairs, we’re doing choreography upstairs and then fighting every single day. There is just so much to do with such an enormous cast that it feels right to be balancing that work and make sure it’s all done to the highest level.

Peter Pan is such a well-known part of our nation’s culture so do we really yet another version of JM Barrie’s classic?

One of those really interesting things we found through rehearsals is the story of Peter Pan exists so vividly in the zeitgeist for so many people, but we found digging into the novel there were bits that people didn’t remember. Then what was really exciting was taking a fresh look at it through the eyes of Ella Hickson who’s written the adaptation for us here.

How has Ella managed to craft something new from such a familiar tale

There’s something amazing in how she’s written it, which is both absolutely cherishing and representing that original story that everyone loves, but also finding new depths in it.

How so?

Our version is Wendy and Peter Pan, so it’s told through the eyes of Wendy, but Ella adds new strains and pathos that weren’t there before. There is something amazing after the last couple of years in coming into something so celebratory.

What can people expect if they buy a ticket?

There’s incredible flying, some of the best fight sequences I’ve ever seen on stage, dancing, a pirate ship and tons of laughs. Then there is gorgeous pathos Ella has slipped into it which catches me off guard every time.

Famously the Lost Boys and the Darlings fly so how have you got the cast up to speed on that really challenging specialist acting skill?

It is tough and we had everyone who’s flying put into training for a couple months before we even hit rehearsals. We’ve got the flying rig in the rehearsal room which is amazing, and we’ve been doing it every day. So, a sequence in the show which has to look beautiful and amazing it takes weeks to make that effortless.

And have the actors enjoyed buzzing around in the air?

The cast loved it and were so excited when they knew we were going to be flying in the rehearsal room. Most productions would leave it to tech, and it would be a last-minute thing. For us it’s really important that the flying is spectacular for this audience and the cast love it.

And once the cast get out of the flying rigs, they have to join big fight scenes which is another specialist skill. How are you making sure they can do battle safely?

To that end we’ve got Terry King, who’s the best fight director in the UK, and he has been working with us on the fights. Pretty much half of the day everyday has been fights because there are these set pieces of big battles before intervals, here and there and at the end of the show. Again, we want them to be truly brilliant and truly spectacular to wow audiences.

Not all actors look that convincing when they are doing fight scenes.

We’ve been so fortunate in the cast members that we’ve got because not all actors are the most amazing fighters in the world. They could be brilliant actors, but we’ve got the most incredible fighters, and they sell those sequences just so fantastically.

The villainous Captain Hook has been played in all sorts of different ways over the decades so how is the dastardly pirate portrayed in your version?

We are very much aided in that by having David Birrell playing Hook, who is a fantastic Shakespearean actor of huge talent, and has done everything you can think of under the sun He brings a depth to that character and Ella brings a depth to that character as well, so he’s not just a one note pantomime villain. He’s someone who is at times truly scary, and at times somebody that you can really relate to and understand his journey.

Wendy & Peter is at Leeds Playhouse until 22nd January 2022. To book 0113 2137700 or visit https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/wendy-peter-pan/

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