‘The Man Who Was Peter Pan’ was written in 1996 by American playwright Allan Knee, workshopped and then completed in 1998; then like so many new books, it effectively remained untouched for a decade before it was staged. It was then adapted by the film industry to give us the Oscar-winning, whimsical film ‘Finding Neverland’. As a librettist, Allan Knee also wrote the Broadway musical adaptation of ‘Little Women’.
A Scottish Baronet, Sir J. M. Barrie was the author of ‘Peter Pan’. After a century this is still a childhood favourite, however, this story depicts the real-life tragedy behind the classic. This Australian stage premiere has curtain-up at 7.30 pm in the heritage-listed Old Mill Theatre on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road in South Perth. The performances are on each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings until 16th November. There are Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm on 3rd and 10th November.
This wonderful two-hour play is mainly light-hearted, but it is also very much a tragedy and NOT for the kiddies.
The Scene: Central London, summer 1908.
The Set: By use of well-chosen and high-quality AV projected scenes (Rosalyn Anderson and Sarah Christiner), several locations were created. There was even an AV flickering fire. The AV also included several family photographs of Barrie with the Llewelyns. The side flats were built by Phil Barnett and Mark Nicholson, and painted by Sarah Christiner.
On one side of the stage was Barrie’s creative area, with a writing bureau and bentwood chairs. One the opposite side was a park bench against an ivy-covered wall with surrounded by small shrubs.
Lighting: the design and operation were by John Woolrych, who skilfully avoided the spill of floodlight onto the rear AV projection screen, allowing the pictures to remain crisp. John produced an impressive starry night sky and an extra couple of special effects.
The sound design and operation were by Daniel Toomath and Sarah Christiner. Quite a few little trimmings were added that many sound designers may not have considered.
Stage manager Rachel Anderson ensured the play’s pace by having the cast change the furnishings between scenes.
Blake Jenkins’ programme was informative and had a delightful series of sepia photographs (Rosalyn Anderson) of the cast.
After several successful novels, Barrie (Gino Cataldo) has writer’s block. So, looking for inspiration he regularly walks his Saint Bernard dog, Porthos, in Kensington Park. It is here that one day, he spots four young boys aged between ten and thirteen playing. He particularly notices their talent for inventing situations.
The boys are a little ragged and although very different in character, are extremely close. The oldest boy, George (Michael Nicholls) is brave, serious and wishes to see the world. The second eldest is Jack (Alec Fuderer), an easy-going fun-loving boy. Peter (Jacob Miles) is extremely studious and interested in many aspects of writing and theatre; just as JM was at his age but Peter misses his father dreadfully. Then there is the loving, teddy bear hugging immature ‘runt of the litter’, Michael (Charlie Young).
When Barrie meets their mother, Sylvia ‘Jocelyn’ Llewelyn Davies (Anna Head) he discovers that this forty-two-year-old lady was recently widowed. Soon, they all become family friends and JM finds the happiness he once experienced as a child in a large family.
Now, being a one parent family, Mrs Llewelyn Davies nervously makes a special request of Barrie.
For a decade, director Sarah Christiner has proved her acting and directing skills. When Sarah initially announced productions like ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and then ‘Animal Farm’, I thought ‘Has Sarah bitten off more than she can chew this time?’ and yet every time, she doesn’t just do an adequately good job but a fully researched excellent job.
In this production Sarah had to guide her young cast to metamorphose from pre-teens to late teens. All four boys are exceptionally talented and not only knew their scripts perfectly but had full understanding of their relationships with each other. The boys had clear Eton accents and carried themselves amazingly. There were times when the mood became heart-breaking and their delivery remained perfect. Peter even brought tears to a few of us.
Anna had the task of portraying a mother, filled with grief, left with little money and four growing boys which a hundred years ago with no social services would have been an incredible strain. She was terrific.
Finally, Gino as Barrie had a couple of major challenges, with appearance and accent. Luckily Gino even looked like him. Barrie was 160 cms, slim build and with a smart thick moustache. The correct accent was an eastern coast of Scotland – Fife – accent, not the western broad Billy Connelly Glasgow twang. Gino had a perfect match, which did wander very slightly on occasions as the performance progressed, but in general it was consistently impressive. You could feel his love for the boys, his frustrated love for their mum and at times his difficulty coping with other humans.
Six amazing performances, a skilfully written script which changed mood subtly throughout. This is a poignant well-presented story that ALL adults will appreciate, not only literary fans but anyone who enjoys theatrical quality.