For those based in London or Scotland (details of run here) I highly recommend going to see the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Peter Pan. Produced to commemorate the 150th birthday of the Scottish JM Barrie, the action is reimagined in the Victorian industry of the railways and the construction of the Forth Bridge.
The original Pan story is fascinating, and this production returns much of the darkness that Disney and others have left out in the past. Pan himself is amnesiac, unable to remember any foe once he has fought them, and the tragedy of a boy unable to move into manhood – a boy who arrives on the scene having lost his ‘shadow’ – is brought to the fore in this version. Of course, the story is not really about Pan, but about Wendy – a girl who is maturing into womanhood, who, on the last night of sleeping in the nursery, is flown away by the eternally-young Pan to Neverland, where she is immediately installed as Mother to the Lost Boys.
The idyll is set up: she can remain forever young in this beautiful place. But this is quickly smashed as she realises that living ‘out of time’ as Pan does means life with no meaningful relationships. And who should come to bring this internal disturbance to the surface but Pirates. I’ve blogged an extensive series of posts on why I think Pirates have a hugely important role to play in cultural disturbance; what is additionally fascinating about Barrie’s Captain Hook is that his is being eternally chased by a ticking crocodile that ate his hand, and with it his pocket watch. Peter Pan claims to have lost his shadow but he is in denial. Hook is his shadow – a man who knows time is following him wherever he goes. Pan’s battle to kill Hook is thus a battle with his own desires and fears. His slaying of Hook is seen as a great victory – now he can live forever with no danger – but the ending of the battle actually brings clarity to Wendy’s mind: she knows she must return and grow up, for the eternal youth of Pan’s world is shallow, forgetful and thus without true love.
The production is brilliantly done – I am still wondering in wonder at how Tinkerbell, a flame that dances across the stage, was done. The music is beautiful and the flying done superbly too. Children will love it as a visual feast, but in a culture that worships youth, this is really a parable for those who know they are growing up, a warning about the perils of trying to do battle with Father Time.
These themes of piracy, cultural disturbance and the need to embrace maturation and change are all explored in Other, which is now just a couple of weeks away from being on sale. I hope it will provide some good material for discussion, especially in a church environment that has also bought into the Pan myth – with all the amnesia and fetishisation of youth that that brings.