Friday, 13 May 2016

The hidden world of Peter Pan

A fascinating new exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum charts the unseen history of the boy who never grew up

Peter Pan first appeared as a character in JM Barrie’s novel The Little White Bird, which was published in 1902. Two years later he took centre stage alongside Captain Hook, Tinker Bell, the Darling children and the Lost Boys in Barrie’s most famous work, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. The play, which opened with a cast of 50 on 27 December 1904 at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, was an instant success. One of the first productions to feature actors flying, its (primarily adult) audience was spellbound – even the cast was surprised by their enthusiasm when asked to clap if they believe in fairies.

peter-pan-590-2Actress Margaret Lockwood visits Great Ormond Street dressed as Peter Pan in 1949

In 1929 Barrie generously gave all the rights to Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital, the first dedicated children’s hospital in the United Kingdom. Although he stipulated that the hospital must never reveal how much income was raised through Peter Pan royalties – a request that the hospital continues to respect – this was undoubtedly a very significant gift, and one from which Great Ormond Street still benefits.

peter-pan-590-3Left: The cast list for a 1929 performance of the play at Great Ormond Street. Right:Peter And The Darling Children Flying To Neverland: American artist Flora White’s 1914 illustration

Peter Pan has become a classic, evolving over the years in a number of mediums, including film, radio and graphic novels – a testament to its flexibility and enduring magic. Now, for the first time, the public will be able to see an exhibition of artefacts from the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity’s Peter Pan Collection.

peter-pan-590-4Left: The Kensington Gardens statue. Right: JM Barrie’s 1906 photo of Michael Llewelyn Davies dressed as Pan

The exhibition examines the true story behind this much-loved work and includes early editions, the original bell used as the ‘voice’ of Tinker Bell in the 1904 production, and other fascinating memorabilia, such as a 1906 photograph taken by Barrie of Michael Llewelyn Davies dressed as Peter Pan, which was used as inspiration for the famous statue in Kensington Gardens.

peter-pan-590-5Left: A 1924 Peter Pan postcard. Right: An illustration by Kathleen Atkins from the 1930s

According to Barrie’s great-great-nephew, David Barrie, ‘My great-great uncle was a complicated man and the dark side of his imagination is the key to understanding the real power of his greatest creation, Peter Pan. This exhibition, filled with marvellous images, will challenge the saccharine image of Peter Pan propagated by Disney and will help to set the record straight.’

Take Me To Neverland: Peter Pan From Play To Book And Beyond runs from 12 May to 20 October at the Florence Nightingale Museum, St Thomas’ Hospital, London.


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