PETER PAN | Q&A
Everyone knows J.M Barrie’s classic tale of Peter Pan, but how have you tried to make the story your own?
I obviously read the original in all its different forms when they asked me to do Peter Pan and I thought that Wendy was the key to it in that she seems to me the only person in it that has a story that you could hang a show around in that she’s the only one that really changes. By the end of the story she’s grown up. So I took her and I basically changed the whole thing so that she’s really the central point to it. Her and Peter’s relationship becomes what this show is about – and her struggle with growing up. She finds it hard and I just wanted to make Wendy central to it and make her someone that young people would actually respect and want to watch.
How do you think audiences will react to that change in focus?
They won’t notice! I think if you do it well enough, they’ll all hopefully feel that the elements of the original are still there, there’s still Tinkerbelle and the Lost Boys and Hook is terrifying. It’s just shifted around a bit so that Wendy has a real arc of the story and sort of faces a struggle, she faces the struggle of her life really. And I’ve put the show around that. Often people don’t really know the story of Peter Pan, they sort of know it’s about fairies and pirates and having fights, but beyond that, people couldn’t really tell you the actual storyline – it’s very episodic the original which is why it’s quite good actually because you can shift it around quite a lot and it still feels like Peter Pan.
You decided to set the play in the 1970s in a council flat despite its original Edwardian setting. Was that the whole idea of making it more applicable to a younger audience?
Yeah I suppose it was, but not just that, I think young audiences can imagine the Edwardian era no problem, I mean look at Harry Potter and stuff and all that kind of tradition. I wanted to mess around with the ideas of childhood. Barrie, by putting it in the Edwardian era, it’s quite saccharine and I wanted to be able to talk about childhood. So that felt like childhood now rather than childhood back then, specifically with gender and Wendy.
You have a lot of practice writing for children over the years, do you think that experience has really helped you adapt the production to a younger audience?
Absolutely! I think I’ve learnt now to think about what was important to you when you were 10. That’s not to make it trivial, because it’s the opposite, If you really think about a young person, their lives are quite a struggle and are often full of worries, things like friendship and love, what your family is, are your parents there, who’s looking after you and I think that if you go from that point of view you’ll get the adults anyway because we’ve all been children. We all sort of know that. It’s better to go that way round than try and make something for kids. Think like them and then it will be better for that.
So you’re not just appealing to children, you are appealing to a wider audience?
I think in every play I’ve done for young people – the last one, called The Ballad Of Pondlife McGurk, had its opening at the Edinburgh Festival and about 60% of the audience were adults and they were all crying at the end and the kids were all laughing. I want kids to come along with their parents and see their parents enjoying something because then it becomes communal rather than it being just for the kids or something where you go along and the parents just basically see it as babysitting. If they enjoy it, it teaches the kids something about what a show can do for the whole family.
What have you done to specifically keep the Peter Pan story alive?
I really love the things that are at stake in Peter Pan, the things that makes it always exciting, like growing up and not wanting to grow up and be a boy forever or a girl. The danger of Hook and things like the death of Tinkerbelle, they all felt really important to keep so I’ve tried to keep those high stakes.
What’s it been like working with director Roisin McBrinn to bring the production to life? Has it been fairly easy? Has it worked well?
I think it’s been brilliant. It’s been really, really good. She has trusted the script, I mean I’ve changed it and I’ve taken it and altered it in response to her, but the best thing I found is that she’s taking it seriously. It’s not just a panto where you mess around, she’s given some depth to it, made it more exciting and worked with the actors in a way I never could.
What’s it been like with the cast as well? How did they react to the adaptation?
They’re great, they’re mainly a really young cast in their early 20s and actually having that energy around is great, it reminds me of when I was a student. I think for a play like this about friendship and messing around and lighting fires and building dens when actually having that young quality is great and then the only really old actor is Hook who brings a bit of gravitas to it.
Peter Pan, Sherman Cymru, Cardiff, Fri 30 Nov-Sat 5 Jan. Tickets: £12-£25. Info: 029 2064 6900 / www.shermancymru.co.uk