Oh, grow up!
We had our family theatre trip last week to see Peter Pan at the Bristol Old Vic and I was reminded how much I love the theatre, especially theatre that makes you use your imagination. Looming lakes created out of wafting strips of blue paper, a crocodile’s fearsome jaws made of a split and sharply serrated traffic cone. The best theatre makes the audience work a little, just as the best children’s games come from their imaginations, a few bits and bobs and a cardboard box.
The whole design of Peter Pan took its lead from children’s games and used objects they might find while out playing on the street – after Wendy is shot down by poor old Tootles, the lost boys make her a house out of old builders’ pallets; the pirate ship is a paint-splattered skip.
Even the casting left something to the imagination. Tinkerbell, unusually, was played by a man. A man in a white tutu (see pic). He gave a great comic turn, yet I found myself immediately moved to tears when we had to clap him back to life. Peter didn’t have to ask twice. The audience couldn’t wait to show they believed in fairies, such was the power of the production.
And Peter himself, though perfectly elfin, was no youngster. Forgive me if I’m wrong, Tristan Sturrock, but I’ve been watching you in shows for years and I reckon you must be in your forties. But it still worked, we still all believed in you as the boy who wouldn’t grow up.
Wendy grows up though. She covers her child’s pyjamas with a womanly dressing gown and breaks the news to Peter that she is an adult, a mother, a carer. She is no longer ‘heartless’ and therefore she can no longer fly. For me this moment had an added poignancy as not only am I middle-aged and a mother, but I also used to be up there on the stage myself. Here I was in the audience supervising an unseemly scrap over the shared family pack of Maltesers, and a part of me couldn’t help yearning to be younger and less responsible, to be up there with the actors again.
So when do we have to grow up? Is it when we turn twenty-one? When we reach middle age, old age? When we become parents? I don’t know. I think it’s more just an attitude of mind. The show made me try to remember what it’s like to be very young. To remember what it’s like to want to make sure you get your fair share of Maltesers. And then I tried not to mind that my older daughter, despite having some perfectly ‘good’ clothes, had chosen to wear a nasty nylon prom dress bought for Halloween which, as far as I could tell, she had on upside down.
They say that having children keeps you young, but that’s only true if you put yourself in their shoes regularly. Peter Pan reminded me to do that. And as a children’s author, it’s something I shall keep on doing. And as for acting, well now I’m a writer I do get to go up on stage and talk about my books and perform and show off and have a laugh. So maybe I don’t have to grow up totally and absolutely completely quite just yet.
If you want a refreshing mind lift – as opposed to a face lift – Peter Pan is still running. I recommend you fly to Bristol at once (second star to the right and straight on ’til morning!)