recess radio program

12/27/04
Peter Pan Begins to Fly
    by Rita Smith

The play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, opened at the Duke of York's Theater in London on December 27, 1904. The author, James Barrie, was one of the most popular playwrights of the time, but this play was very different from his previous offerings. It was far more lavish, something of an extravaganza, with ennovative technical aspects and absurd and fantastical plot elements. Barrie was sure it would not be a commercial success, but, he told his manager, "it is a dream child of mine, and I am so anxious to see it on stage that I have written another play which I will be glad to give you and which will compensate you for any loss on the one I am so eager to see produced"1 The other play, Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire had a short run and is long forgotten. Peter Pan became one of the most popular plays ever produced.

Peter Pan went into rehersal in November, 1904. The rehersals were difficult. The technicians building the mechanical contraptions to achieved the flying effect were working in uncharted territory. The set designs and costumes were elaborate and cumbersome, and there was an air of secrecy about the play. The actors and actresses, to make sure they didn't leak any information about the play to the press, were sworn to absolute secrecy and given only the pages of the play in which they themselves were to appear. One day, the actress playing Wendy, for example, received a card that simply stated the place of the next day's rehersal with the cryptic addition: "Flying. 10:30 am."

On opening night, the playright, the director and the actors were all apprehensive, but from the moment the curtain went up, a spell descended on the audience and Barries' magic held them enthralled. There was no need, when Peter turned to the audience and asked for the first time "Do you believe in fairies?" for the orchestra (as had been arranged) to lead the applause. The audience fulfilled its part with enthusiasm, even though they were nearly all grown-ups that night.

Peter Pan became a staple of the theater, playing in London every Christmas for many years and continues to be produced regularly, almost 100 years after opening night.. A night at the theatre to see Peter Pan was and it the highlight of the Christmas season for many children. But people of all ages love Peter Pan, for it revisits a time in everyone's childhood when danger and adventure lured us into the possibilities of the imagination and audiences are charmed by Barrie's artful combination of the real world of the Darling nursery with the surreal world of Never Never Land.

Notes

1 Green, p. 70.

Source:

Green, Roger Lancelyn. Fifty Years of Peter Pan. London: Peter Davies, 1954.

Copyright 2004 Rita Smith

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