Lucie Sutherland’s pocket sized book on J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan explores the versatility of the play; offering insight into the historical, material and cultural contexts of the play. In 66 short pages it covers the period of the creation of the play as well as critiquing stage and screen adaptations which have come afterwards.
Sutherland notes that Peter Pan is ‘both thematically complex and commercially astute, with an enduring interest for audiences.’ In her work she addresses both of these aspects in as much detail as the short form allows.
Her work does not (often) seek to stray into the realms of meta-textual analysis, but rather to focus on the play’s construction, reconstruction and reception. As such it offers much information and food for thought.
The three main chapters consider the development of the play, the first performances and subsequent adaptations. All of these are interesting and engaging, covering new as well as familiar ground.
The Introduction suffers from one biographical inaccuracy, where Dumfries Academy is air-brushed out, to be replaced by Forfar Academy. It’s a small but significant slip (especially if you have either Forfar or Dumfries connections)because of the impact of Dumfries Theatre Royal on the schoolboy. To correct the factual error it should be noted that Barrie’s schooling is as follows: Glasgow Academy 1869-1871, Forfar Academy,1871-1873 and Dumfries Academy 1873-1878.
This aside, the book offers much to engage. It is particularly strong on the production process. For example, there is discussion of the pantomime aspect of the play. I had not considered this before, but it helped me draw a contextual connection with the short play Pantaloon which was performed for the first time in April 1905, shortly after the initial performances of Peter Pan.
Considerations of the origins and contextual significances of ‘Never Land’ might have been further developed had space allowed, though of course this is both a vast and mined field for appraisal.
The chapter on stage and screen adaptations offers review and overview, and the section ‘Appropriating Peter Pan’ tantalisingly moves towards meta-textual analysis through consideration of Finding Neverland and the 2003 film version of Peter Pan. Again, the deeper argument here is only constrained by space but is certainly interesting and thought provoking. And other works are given their relative due, providing breadth of comparision.
Peter Pan is a difficult play in so many ways. Consequently, it is a difficult play to write about and Lucie Sutherland is to be applauded for presenting this short work, which brings so much information into one place and which offers a good start point for deeper discussion and further scholarship.
J.M.Barrie's Peter Pan by Lucie Sutherland is published by Routledge in The Fourth Wall series.
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