The latest production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan attests to our cultural infatuation with the accessible spectacular. For the first time in over 100 years, this British classic will be performed in a specially designed pavilion in Kensington Gardens, the site of Barrie’s inspiration. While this historic situation has been chosen, the performance will be far from traditional.
The production boasts a superb creative team at its helm. It has been adapted by Tanya Ronder, who promises to revoke the saccharine injected by the Disney animation, and who was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award last year. Ben Harrison’s direction promises to produce a powerful play. He is accustomed to the challenge of working in experimental site-specific locations through his experience with the Scottish theatre company, Grid Iron. However, the largest feather in this production’s cap is the theatre designer William Dudley. Dudley has collected seven Olivier awards, more than any other theatre professional bar Dame Judi Dench. Dudley’s design that will ensure a spectacle.
Dudley’s vision of Neverland will be projected 360 degrees around the entire pavilion, the ceiling dissolved by high-resolution video and CGI technology, immersing the cast and audience in a fantastical world. He has previously employed this innovative and technological feat in Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia at the National Theatre in 2002, Hitchcock Blonde at the Royal Court in London in 2003, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White at the Palace Theatre in 2004. Dudley claims that Peter Pan will exceed his past works due to technological development. The teaser claims “our audiences will fly with Peter to Neverland, stand on the deck of Hook’s ship and soar high over Kensington Gardens”.
Whilst Dudley’s concept is progressive, it highlights the sorry state that the ‘spectacular’ has left upon the arts. Peter Pan has captured the imagination of children and adults alike for over a century. Is the strength of the plot and aptitude of the actors no longer enough? Has an inflection in a voice and an actor’s expression been considered so insubstantial in evoking a scene that we have felt the need to replace our imagination with computer-generated images and brash staging? Perhaps media bombardment has desensitised us to the subtleties of the arts and made our imagination dumb; apparently a legendary tale such as Peter Pan now needs supplementing, creating a production of experiential spectacular accessibility.
To its merit, this production ensures audience participation and intimacy, counterbalancing the awe-imposing spectacular. Surrounded by the projected set, this state-of-the-art auditorium offers unimpeded views of the stage, seating over 1000 people in the round, in close proximity to the action. Dudley has ensured that the theatregoers are not mere spectators, but become embroiled in the land of pirates and fairies. Barrie wished to create a magical land to whisk people away from reality and into a world of dream. Dudley’s vision will certainly achieve this through his spectacular staging.