August 2, 2008

Musical Youth Are All Set for Peter Pan

Youth Music Theatre: UK is the country's biggest provider of musical theatre for young people aged between 11 and 21. The 40 or so cast members of each production were chosen from more than 1,000 who auditioned across the UK earlier this year.

Next week they appear at the Barbican Theatre with a new version of Peter Pan.

It is written by Nick Stimson, who is no stranger to Plymouth audiences, mainly from his many years associated with the Theatre Royal Young Company, which virtually began in 1989 with his musical play Brother Jacques. It also marked his first collaboration with composer Chris Williams, and they went on to write and stage many more memorable musical plays with the Young Company, including Wistman's Drum, Monkey, The Hot Rock, Korczak and The Lost Domain.

Two years ago we saw his NHS The Musical, which both celebrated and set up that landmark institution. He wrote it in collaboration with Jimmy Jewell, who again partners him on Peter Pan.

We may all think we know the story of the boy who wouldn't grow up, but is that really the case? There has been no shortage of adaptations of J M Barrie's classic narrative, from the first novel before the original play, to subsequent stage and television plays and musicals, plus films (Barrie himself wrote the screenplay for the first, silent movie version in 1924, though Paramount Pictures virtually ignored his script), Disney's cartoon as long ago as 1952, and pantomime. Even the Royal Shakespeare Company produced a version, in 1982, with newly written songs and an adult male Peter Pan.

Barrie himself was not above tinkering with the text, his definitive version not being sanctioned until 24 years after his play's premiere. By then he had removed from the script all trace of the sexual element which coloured Wendy's, Tinker Bell's and the Indian maiden Tiger Lily's feelings about Peter. To add to the mystery about the 'true' Peter Pan story is Barrie's own mischievous comment he could not remember having written it in the first place.

This new adaptation is billed as returning to its roots and re- inventing it for the 21st century in a version like none that has been seen before. A tall order, indeed. Performances are staged at the Barbican Theatre at 8pm on Friday, August 8, and at 2pm, 5pm and 8pm on Saturday, August 9.

Then on Friday August 22 at 5pm and 8pm, and Saturday August 23 at 2pm they present Endangered.

International director Peta Lily and composer Jonathan Cooper will be working at the Barbican Theatre to devise this unique show, which combines recordings of live animals with choral compositions to create a memorable debate on endangered species.

Peta Lily says she and Jonathan "share with our choreographer Vincent Manna a joy in the engaging power of ensemble theatre work, work that is visual, work that is developed through improvisation, play and discovery".

"The nature of our broadly ranging subject leads us to accept that there would be no driving narrative. The scenes would rather open and close and accumulate, moving through shifting perspectives and moods."

With the journey only just begun, she adds: "We need the rehearsal room and we await the imagination, dedication, expression and talent of the young people who will join us in creating and performing Endangered."

For tickets and further information about both presentations, contact the Barbican Theatre on 01752 267131.

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