“Peter Pan” at The Duke of York’s Theatre
Again Mr. J.M. Barrie has drawn one of the great prizes of the theatrical lottery. There will be divergent opinions, no doubt, as to the quality of the humour which inspires and pervades “Peter Pan,” but all the world and his wife will go and see it, and will take their children.
Though the play is written very much in the key of “The Little White Bird,” and though several ideas from that book recur in it, there is no essential connection between the two. We are first introduced into a nursery where three children, Wendy, John, and Michael Darling, are tended by a Newfoundland dog whom they call Nana. Mr. Darling, the father, being offended with Nana, banishes her from the nursery to the yard. Thereupon Mr. and Mrs. Darling incautiously go out to a dinner party leaving the children unprotected; and this is Peter Pan’s opportunity.
Peter Pan is a boy who flew away from his mother because he did not want to grow up, and now rules in the Never-Never Land, whither all those children go who fall out of their perambulators while the nurse is looking the other way. He comes to the Darling nursery to recover his shadow, which he has left behind him on a former visit. Having found his shadow, which has been rolled up and put away in a drawer, he wakens the three children and teaches them to fly, whereupon the wall opens, and they soar away with him to the Never-Never Land.
There Peter Pan and his band live in an underground house, which you access by means of several hollow trees. They are constantly at war with a tribe of redskins on the one hand, and with a pirate crew on the other, headed by a bloodthirsty bravo known as James Hook, from the iron claw which replaces his right hand. Eventually the children make peace with the redskins, and form an alliance against the pirates.
At last they all, save Peter Pan, determine to fly home with the three Darlings, and with that view ascend to the surface. But, alas though they do not know it, the Indians have been overpowered by the pirates, so that as the children emerge from the hollow trees they are one by one gagged and carried aboard the pirate schooner. The pirate captain has contrived to substitute a deadly poison for medicine Peter Pan has to take, but his guardian fairy drinks it in his stead, and is naturally taken very ill. But there is one restorative for fairies against which the most potent poison is unavailing, and that is that mortals, and especially children, should believe in them. So Peter Pan appeals to the audience to testify their faith in the existence of the fairy world, and a hearty round of applause restores the sufferer to perfect health.
The next scene, on board the pirate ship, is the most delightful of the whole production. The children, loaded with manacles, are about to be made to walk the plank, when they are rescued by the ingenuity and daring of Peter Pan, the avenger. After a terrific combat all the pirates are thrown overboard, the Jolly Roger is lowered, and the Union Jack floats bravely in instead.
This bare outline of Mr. Barrie’s fantasy conveys not even the faintest conception of the myriad quaint and pretty and delectable details inwoven into its texture. Every second speech is a new invention, always unforeseen and almost always delightful. Even those who least relish it must admit that no such play was ever seen before on any stage. It is absolutely original — the product of a unique imagination.
I thought it would be fun to post an original review along with these illustrations from the January 5th edition of The Graphic. The drawings are by J.M. Brock. More often we see the Ralph Cleaver drawings from January 4th edition of The Sketch. I purchased a page by the latter on December 3rd (2011, not 1905 🙂 ). The Cleaver illustrations are featured in my book.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, my friends!