Journey into Neverland for an adventure this Christmas-time, as the New Theatre Royal puts on its new adaptation of Peter Pan.
The story of JM Barrie’s boy who wouldn’t grow up is set for an epic retelling with lavish sets, fantastic costumes and soaring songs. So let your dreams take flight at this most magical and thrilling family event.
Join Wendy, Michael and John as they take off with Peter Pan, and meet a fabulous range of characters along the way – Tinker Bell, Lily, the Lost Boys, mermaids, pirates and, of course, the deliciously deadly Captain Hook.
NTR’s artistic director Scott Ramsay is the writer and director. ‘Peter Pan is a show that we knew we wanted to do here in Portsmouth – we knew it suited the style of Christmas show that we wanted to develop here, something that sits between panto and musical. And it’s a rich script, the British public love Peter Pan so it’s very attractive as a title, but it hasn’t been seen very often around this area, particularly not as a professional production.’
It is the second year running the theatre has created its own Christmas show, and they hope to build on the success of Beauty and The Beast.
‘We saw a huge number of new people come to the theatre last year,’ says Scott, ‘68 per cent of people who came to see Beauty and The Beast had not been to the theatre before, so we want that audience to come back again and also to continue to grow that new audience.’
As a theatre-buff and JM Barrie fan, Scott has delved back into the story’s roots for this version.
‘I’ve been fortunate to do a few of his plays in the past. Peter Pan was first staged in the West End as a play, and it was a risk because nothing like that had been seen before, and it was going to be playing to adult audiences.
‘Barrie was so worried about it, but he was very clever. He planted children from disadvantaged backgrounds into the audience, and it completely changed the dynamic of the audience – they were not only responding to what they were seeing on stage, which seemed extraordinary for the time, but they were also responding to the children and that changed things and their expectations.
‘The wonderful thing is that he didn’t stay still with the story. Then he went and wrote the book, and adapted it again, and adapted it again, added a new ending to it, so we use two versions of the story – Peter and Wendy, and the original play, and I’ve adapted it so it works in a musical sense.
‘We’ve got a fantastic cast - 10 professional musical theatre performers, and then our local cast – there’s great opportunities for the Lost Boys and , the Darling brothers and some of the Neverlanders as well. I’m really pleased - it’s important to me that we reflect the audience we serve.
‘We’ve got a 50/50 gender balance in the cast, which you don’t often see, we’ve got ethnic diversity, and two children from the deaf community playing Lost Boys, which is exciting for us – we want to keep doing that in the future.’
And Scott’s keen to make sure it’s a show that appeals to everyone equally.
‘It’s a great show to support that cross-generational approach to creating work – you can come as an adult and it’s not a compromise for you, it’s not a kids’ show, it’s as enjoyable for you as it is for a child.
‘People think that pantos and Christmas shows are primarily for children, but the majority of people who come are adults, so you have to get that right, and Peter Pan suits this down to the ground.’
Unlike many Christmas shows and pantos, the NTR forgoes casting ‘names’ for the sake of it. But they have welcomed back Timothy Lucas, who impressed as Frederick in Beauty and The Beast, this time as Captain Hook.
‘The perfect scenario for theatre is that there’s a familiarity with the people in the theatre and the actors who frequent it, and there’s trust that builds out of that,’ explains Scott.
‘It’s fun to see actors play different parts, and that’s why the old rep model worked so well, but now that has largely gone. Having Tim back was important to us – I thought he was a spot on choice to play Captain Darling and Captain Hook , which is a traditional pairing which came about during the original staging in 1907. It wasn’t JM Barrie’s intention, it was the actor who persuaded him that it was a good idea, and it was such a good idea, that reflection of the two characters, that it stuck.
‘But that familiarity with the actors is something we want to build over time, and people feeling that they can take a punt on seeing a show they’ve not seen before or they’re not quite sure what to expect but they know the quality will be there.
‘For me it’s really important for the musical robustness of the show that they’re all musical theatre professionals, the casting’s spot on, we’re not making compromises in order to shoe-horn someone in.’
With this being Scott’s second Christmas at the helm, he’s starting to feel properly at home, and they’ve already begun work on next year’s show.
‘It’s a huge amount of work and you have to start planning next year, before you even get to this one, so we’re already looking at The Nutcracker for next year as a new family musical.
‘Again it fits the bill – it feels Christmassy. There’s a lot of work goes into it – the sets are being built now, and the music’s being produced at this moment as well. [In-house costume maker] Naomi’s busy with her assistant making all of the costumes.
‘And what’s lovely is that’s it’s a show produced by us here in Portsmouth, for Portsmouth, it’s not bought in – it’s our show and we’re able to put our own stamp of quality and personality on it.’
New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth