Peter Pan, Lost Childhood and Role Reversals in Traditional Children’s Tales

At the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon on Friday night ( 24th January 2014) we saw a reversal of roles for Peter Pan and Wendy.

I always like to give myself time to read the programme notes before a performance (if at all possible!) And the most intriguing notes on this production of  Wendy and Peter Pan 

Wendy and Peter Pan at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon
Wendy and Peter Pan at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon

were written by the playwright, Ella Hickson .She had, she explained, set out to break away from the stereotypes that surround the story. So she would subvert the tropes so familiar to us from The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Snow White – in endless tales of girls just waiting for salvation to arrive in the shape of a prince.

She wanted to give Wendy a chance to have as much fun and show as much fight as the boys without losing what it is that makes girls different.

So we saw an empowered Wendy, and a Neverland which was Wendy’s as much as it was Peter Pan’s or the lost boys’.

It wasn’t, Ella Jackson wrote, about pushing political correctness on the young but it is about making sure we aren’t camouflaging unhealthy narratives with the soft glow of traditionalism.

This production of Wendy and Peter Pan focused on the theme of bereavement, presenting us with a third brother for Wendy, Tom, who died in childhood. And so it focused on Wendy’s search for the lost boy who would never grow up – grief for a brother who died young.

We saw a Wendy who rescued herself – she didn’t wait for Peter Pan to rescue her. He was off being irresponsible and having fun. The roles between Wendy and Peter were reversed. We heard Captain Hook bemoaning to Mr Smee about people who are prepared to lay down their lives for those they love: “Why doesn’t anyone care about me like that?”

And we saw a Tiger Lily and a Tinkerbell who were both radically different from the Disney versions!

Tiger Lily in the Royal Shakespeare company's production of Wendy & Peter Pan
Tiger Lily in the Royal Shakespeare company’s production of Wendy & Peter Pan
Tinkerbell in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Wendy & Peter Pan
Tinkerbell in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Wendy & Peter Pan

JM Barrie’s own early trauma fuelled his creation of this story. His own brother David died age 13 when JM Barrie was six. He was haunted by the loss as he could never replace his brother in the eyes of his grieving mother.I was struck by how psychological trauma, grief and loss can be so fertile if we choose to create from it.
JK Rowling has said, the whole story of Harry Potter would never have happened if not for this one thing; that she loved her mother, and her mother died.

Of course it’s now very popular to subvert the tropes of different fairy tales and we have seen it done brilliantly by, for example,  Roald Dahl and by the creators of the Shrek films.

But what do you think about our traditional fairy tales? Are the original version necessarily “unhealthy narratives”? Should Cinderella no more be rescued by the prince, but headhunted instead, to be the CEO of a major multinational corporation? I’d love to know what you think, especially if you have young children who are approaching these traditional stories for the first time.

Totally Devoted to Jane Austen

One of my favourite Christmas gifts was one I bought for myself for 10p in the late stock-clearance at my son’s school Christmas Fair – an audio book of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice book cover (The Folio Society Definitive Collector's Edition)
Pride and Prejudice book cover (The Folio Society Definitive Collector’s Edition)

I’ve been listening to it in the car over and over again. And despite Death Comes to Pemberley  on TV after Christmas, I still cannot get enough of Elizabeth, Darcy, Mrs Bennett, Lydia, Wickham and all the rest of them.

In addition, as another Christmas gift I received the DVD set of the classic BBC TV series starring Colin Firth as Darcy and Elizabeth Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett.

You’d think that knowing all the story-points and the outcome would dim your enthusiasm for engaging with one novel again and again.

Yet in Pride and Prejudice my appetite is never sated.

On every hearing, there are new glittering gems of psychological insight, discernment and irony to be found.

Was there ever such a bitchy young woman as Miss Bingley? Or such a cringing sycophant as Mr Collins? Can we ever quite fathom the sardonic detachment of Mr Bennett? And was Lady Catherine really pleased with Mr Collins’s obsequiousness? And can we ever truly understand Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr Collins, or determine exactly what Mr Wickham imagined would happen to Lydia and her family once he’d  finished with her in London and gone off abroad to seek better chances there – as was his avowed plan when Darcy finally hunted him down? And has any author ever written a  better account of a changing heart than Jane Austen’s, in her depiction of Elizabeth reading Mr Darcy’s letter and coming to a new opinion of the respective characters of Mr Wickham and Mr Darcy?

We keen novel readers have many ideas of the best novel ever written. Some may say Cervantes’ Don Quixote, or James Joyce’s Ulysses, or Tolstoy’s War and Peace, or  Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. But I say Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is the most perfect novel ever written because I can never get my fill of her wisdom and  insight into human relationships and behaviour and motivation. And there seems no end to the power of this story and these characters and this author’s observations, to set off answering bells in my own life-experience.

Why I Believe Mankind Can Never ‘Own’ the Moon

Nobody Owns the Moon.

a romantic image of the moon - a perpetual source of inspiration for artists and poets
a romantic image of the moon – a perpetual source of inspiration for artists and poets

On Friday morning January 10th 2014 I heard Mishal Husain interview Ian Crawford and Nicola Triscott on this topic on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Nicola Triscott has mounted an exhibition on London’s South Bank called Republic of the Moon. She has transformed The Bargehouse at Oxo Tower Wharf into  ‘an artist’s lunar embassy on earth’.

During the interview we heard a quote from Article 1 of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty: “the moon is the province of all mankind”. Apparently Article 2 prohibits nation states from appropriating the moon.

But now there is some concern that that treaty should be updated, and private corporations should also be added to the provision.

In 1967 it was never thought that any private corporation would be in the position of being able to exploit the resources on the moon.

When in the history of the human race have such words on treaties and constitutions and charters of human rights ever been respected in reality?

Colonial invaders have always operated on the principle of Finders Keepers. First here exploits it all.

Such was the case with Captain Cook, Don Cortez and many such.

An exhibit on The History of Human Conflict at the Firepower Museum, Royal Arsenal Thames Riverside, Woolwich, (a brilliant museum which I recommend to all), tells us that human conflict began when men turned from hunter gatherers to farmers. Mankind began to fight over the limited resources of land suitable for cultivation. The source of all human conflict is: limited resources.

God grant there are no resources on the moon that can ever be of any economic value to mankind.

For man is greedy. I generally do not have an optimistic view of human nature. And neither does JRR Tolkien. His own view was expressed through the words of the Lady Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: the race of men…. above all else desire power… the hearts of men are easily corrupted and the Ring of Power has a will of its own.

For exploitable resources, read the Ring of Power. If there are valuable resources on the moon, I believe that mankind WILL fight over them, and private corporations and nation states WILL exploit them to gain and increase their power.

Let the moon continue to be the sole province of poets and mystics; of those who gave us glimpses of eternity, of creative writers, and those who dream, and those who deal in mystery and imagination. And let the only lunar resources we draw upon be those of inspiration.

A Fresh Insight Into One of History’s Villains, With the Help of Shakespeare and David Tennant

The highlight of our Christmas was a visit to the Barbican Theatre, London, on Saturday 21 December 2013, to see David Tennant performing in the role of Shakespeare’s Richard II.

David Tennant as Richard II (photo credit Kwame Lestrade)
David Tennant as Richard II (photo credit Kwame Lestrade)

Richard II is one of English history’s villains.

So who better to play him on stage and change our view of him than one of our contemporary heroes,  the charismatic David Tennant?

But Richard II is also one of those kings who is a mystery to many of us; what we do know may be gleaned from primary school history, or a visit to Westminster Abbey.

There the main thing we learn about him is that he was murdered on the orders of his successor, Henry IV, and his body was initially buried somewhere else, but eventually Henry IV felt so guilty he moved the former king to the grand tomb he’d originally had built for himself in Westminster Abbey – which is where we may contemplate him today.

Richard II: An Unbalanced King, we are told in the brilliant comic classic book 1066 And All That, was only a boy at his accession: one day, however, suspecting that he was now twenty-one, he asked his uncle, and, on learning that he was, mounted the throne himself and tried first being a Good King and then being a Bad King, without enjoying either very much.

David Tennant’s Richard II showed us a petulant, whining, rather effete, figure in what my two teenagers could only describe as long hair and a long white nightie (and of course a crown on his head).

We were there because my two teenagers love David Tennant for being Doctor Who.

Yet how he opened up my view of this  bad king.

All the raw vulnerability of the character was there, and I ended up feeling much more  about Richard than that he was simply a baddie basking in undeserved glory in a tomb in Westminster Abbey.

Instead he was a real live fragile human being, with his moral weakness and disastrous decisions, different on the inside from the outside, as we all are.

This is what I wrote about Richard II in an ezine article in 2011:

For example, take a walk round Westminster Abbey, as I did the other day – here, in this major spiritual hub and London tourist attraction you’ll pass the shrine of St Edward the Confessor, and find clustered around him many monuments and tombs. The official tourist guide says these speak both of human dignity and achievement. But do they? Among them we find both the goodies and the baddies. Some are noble but others got there by ruthlessly exploiting everyone and everything in their lust for power.

Of course, after contemplating Richard II, who was so awful he was murdered by his successor, but still eventually ended up in the grand tomb he’d built for himself in the abbey, we can then move on to Poets Corner which shows us a much better aspect of human nature, celebrating creativity and genius to uplift and inspire us.

But now Shakespeare and David Tennant between them have deepened my view of Richard – as all great creatives must do with the characters they portray.

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.