The never-ending story of Peter Pan

Author: Kirstie Niland  

Peter Pan was born in 1902 in J.M. Barrie’s novel The Little White Bird, as a baby who lives on Kensington Gardens’ Serpentine Lake and learns to fly.

The story of Peter was adapted to create the children’s book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906), which Barrie dedicated to “Sylvia and Arthur Llewellyn Davies and their boys. My boys”.

Barrie said these five boys – George, Jack, Peter, Michael and Nico – formed Peter Pan’s character: “I made Peter by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame. Peter Pan is the spark I got from you”. And so it was that the boastful, careless boy who can fly, and wouldn’t grow up, was brought to life.

However the origins of Peter Pan are more tragic, as he was first based on
Barrie’s brother David, who died in an ice-skating accident the day before his 14th birthday. Barrie and his mother remembered David as “forever a boy” – just as Peter Pan has remained a youngster for over a century, known to fairytale lovers the world over as the beautiful boy with a beautiful smile.

Barrie’s stage play adaptation, the musical Peter Pan, was an instant hit when it opened at London’s Duke of York theatre on 27th December 1904. It was tradition then for women to play young boys, so sadly Barrie never fulfilled his wish to see a boy play Peter, and the much sought after role has continued to be played by females, with West End lead’s including household names such as Lulu and Bonnie Langford.
Next came Broadway and critical acclaim, and then the silver screen, with Disney’s Peter Pan in 1953 and Steven Spielberg’s Hook in 1991. Hook attracted a stellar cast, with Robin Williams (Peter Pan), Dustin Hoffman (Captain Hook), Glenn Close (Gutless the pirate), Gwyneth Paltrow (Wendy), Bob Hoskins (Smee) – and Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell.
Tink the fairy wasn’t always played by a pretty woman though, in the original stage production she was a tiny but powerful dot of light. Meanwhile Captain Hook didn’t exist in the first drafts of the play, he appeared later to entertain pirate-loving children and take over the reins of evil from Peter Pan – who was initially the villain of the story. And Peter didn’t wear green, his clothes were the autumnal colours of skeleton leaves.

As for Peter’s ability to fly, he tells the Darling children this is only possible through lovely wonderful thoughts and fairydust. Barrie introduced the necessity for fairydust to stop children from injuring themselves while trying to fly like Peter and the Lost Boys. Take note kids – don’t try this at home.

So Peter Pan has glided through various pages and performances over the decades, but it wasn’t until changes in copyright were made that the play could be adapted to create a pantomime. Since then Peter Pan has become a popular Christmas show at theatres across the UK.
Barrie’s instructions over the copyright of Peter Pan have also enabled the character to forever be a help to children in need of support. For in 1929, he gifted it to Great Ormond Street Hospital, which means GSOH receives royalties from every production. When Barrie moved to London from Edinburgh to pursue a career in the arts, his lodgings were in Grenville Street, behind GSOH, and this house was the inspiration for the Darling family’s home. It is a fitting tribute therefore that his magical legacy lives on through such a worthy cause.

Here at the Winter Gardens excitement is mounting as Peter Pan A Festive Musical Adventure gets set to sprinkle fairydust over Blackpool Opera House. TV star Jennifer Ellison will lead the cast of this dazzling family production as Captain Hook, alongside X Factor’s Jake Quickenden in the title role. They will be joined by Radio Wave’s Breakfast Show favourite Scott Gallagher as hapless sidekick Smee, and Blackpool’s own Maureen Nolan as Mrs Darling. Tickets for the show, which runs Saturday 16th December to Sunday 7th January, start at just £10.

So come and join Peter Pan on his latest swash-buckling adventure in Neverland. It’s easy to find, just turn second to the right, and then straight on till morning. Click here to find out more.




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