"We are using JM Barrie's original text. Barrie's classic adventure is so good that it doesn't need to be camped up, or turned into a panto, or have songs added. It's refreshing to go back to the original text to see what's there," says the producer Raymond Gubbay about his latest production, Peter Pan, which opened last night at the Savoy Theatre, where it will run, in repertory with The Pirates of Penzance, until March next year.
The director, Steven Dexter, has chosen Jack Blumenau, who has just turned 17, to play Peter. "Often Peter is played by actors who are much too mature. Or he's played by a woman. We are going back to Barrie's original perception of the piece - and Jack has elfin, or child-like qualities, which make him perfect for the role." Blumenau who, is studying for A-levels, has acted with the RSC and played Peter, in the television version of the Railway Children in 2000.
At the centre of any production of Peter Pan lies the black-hearted Captain Hook. Anthony Head - whose fame rests on the oddly matched pillars of Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the man in the Nescafé Gold Blend coffee adverts - takes on the role, as well as that of the Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance. "Anthony is delighted to be doing these two meaty roles" says Gubbay. "Unusually for a production of Peter Pan, Steven has separated Captain Hook from Mr Darling - they are played by different actors here - this is deliberate. Captain Hook isn't just a father image in this production - he's something much blacker and deeper.
This mention of darkness is interesting: the timeless allure of Peter Pan is evidenced by the countless productions for film, theatre and television that have been mounted since it premiered in 1904. But, while on the surface it is a fantastic adventure, populated with crocodiles, mermaids, fairies and the Lost Boys - many have felt that it has an undertow of melancholy. Barrie never came to terms with the death of his brother, at the age of 12.
Gubbay, however, believes that the play's appeal lies in its essential escapism: "It's an adventure, but at the end of their travels, the children all come back to nursery, back to the real world. The great appeal of the show is its fantasy of being able to float off to Never Never Land, but being able to come home afterwards. We all have fantasies, but that the security of the family is paramount."
Gubbay adds that he's looking forward to taking his own grandchildren to see it. He has six of them, ranging in age from eight-years-old to just seven weeks: "The wonderful thing about modern children is that - despite everything that is available to them in the way of DVDs and what have you, there's still something magical about seeing a live show - there's no technology that can reproduce the kind of excitement which comes from being in the theatre and seeing the curtain go up and being transported into the magical world of live performance."
Peter Pan, Savoy Theatre, London WC2 (020-78368888) to 20 MarchReuse content