RILEY McLean’s favourite story since his childhood has been Peter Pan, the tale of a boy who has never grown up and takes other troubled young males to a hidden place called Neverland where they will also be ageless.
But as Riley grew older, he increasingly saw a darker side to the Peter Pan story, and this led him to write a play called Take Me to Neverland that looks at the issues that face Peter and others he encounters.
Take Me to Neverland is being staged by Bearfoot Theatre, an offshoot of Eclectic Productions, a company Riley was a partner in forming, with a premiere season at Newcastle’s Civic Playhouse from January 11.
While the play is being performed in a school holiday period, Riley notes it is intended for teenagers and adults, rather than young children.
The title character is seen at two ages, as an eight-year-old boy in an orphanage and as an 18-year-old in a mental asylum, where he has been placed because his fear of becoming an adult has led him to continue to act like a boy. Peter is attended in the asylum by a young nurse called Wendy, and his attraction to her leads to him wanting to go with her to an imagined Neverland.
The story includes many elements of the original work. The other boys in the orphanage have the names Peter gives to the novel’s lost boys when he takes them to Neverland. The pirate characters who threaten Peter and the lost boys in Neverland are here the people who run the orphanage. And Tinker Bell, the shining fairy who helps Peter, is seen as a glowing light bulb Peter talks to in the orphanage.
Take Me to Neverland, co-directed by Riley McLean and Cassie Hamilton, has an eight-member cast aged 16 to 21, with Tom Rodgers as Peter and Savannah Geddes as Wendy. The other actors – Grace Alston, Konstanze Koedam, Taylor Reece, Bonnie McPeak, Harry Lyddiard and Sam Hawkins – play multiple roles.
Tom Rodgers notes that the story starts as very light-hearted, but becomes intense as it develops. And the staging team point out that watchers familiar with the Peter Pan story will smile at references to it in this one.
Riley McLean said he’d suffered from a bout of mental illness in his teenage years and this contributed to him writing the play. He’s not alone in seeing that as an element of Peter Pan. Global psychologists want more medical study done into what they call the Peter Pan Syndrome, a disorder that has largely males hanging onto their childhood and unable to grow into maturity.
Take Me to Neverland is at the Civic Playhouse nightly from January 11-13, at 7pm, plus a 2pm Saturday show. Tickets: $27 to $32. Bookings: 4929 1977.