Peter Pan has been the subject of numerous adaptations for stage and screen since its triumphant première in 1904. J.M. Barrie’s story of pirates, mermaids and fairies has retained its magic despite espousing social values that seem a little uncomfortable to a contemporary audience: today’s little girls would (thankfully) kick up a stink if required to darn socks and wait to be rescued. The end of Michaelmas Term drama production, devised by members of the Upper Sixth in the style of children’s theatre company Polka, was an anarchic, gender-fluid romp that brought some much-needed festive glitter to the Alington Hall.
The play begins in the Darling family nursery where, amid crisp white bed linen and conventional moral certainties, Wendy, Tom, John and Michael are growing up under the beady eye of Nanna the dog (a masterful cameo by an unnamed member of the Drama Faculty). Their world is turned upside down by the death of Tom; Michael becomes a nervous stammerer, John is “so angry he’s broken three trains” and Wendy desperately tries to make everything better. One night, Peter explodes into their lives, whisking them off to Neverland with the aid of a happy thought and fairy dust provided by his trusty sidekick, Tink (an unforgettable Ollie Shutts).
In this version, the real dramatic action lies not with Peter but with Wendy. On the cusp of adolescence, she is pulled between the freedom of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood. On one hand, her naïve sexual awakening as she flirts with Peter; on the other, the dark uncertainties of womanhood – creepily represented by the sequinned mini-dress she is given by Captain Hook, gloriously played by Saffron Milner as an angry Dolly Parton in six-inch heels and rhinestones.
This Wendy – played with warmth and charm by Ella Niblett – is also processing grief. Her trip into Neverland is not just a knockabout adventure, but a way to reconcile her with the past and equip her for the future. Thus, she wrestles with the limitations placed on her by her womanhood – “But who cleans?” – makes friends and embraces her independence. All this, while figuring out where grief must end and happiness begin.
The production was full of delightful vignettes, including the brilliant transformation from nursery to pirate ship (for which credit must be given to the technical wizardry of Adam Wall and Brad Fenton) and the burgeoning romance between Tinkerbell and Martin the Cabin Boy (an adorably goofy Louis Street).
It was particularly lovely to welcome so many members of the wider Shrewsbury community – all of whom, fortunately for us, still believe in fairies.
Dr Helen Brown
Director of Drama