What's in a frame?
Since first reading the book of Peter Pan and Kensington Gardens I felt that this little-known part of the Peter Pan story could work on stage. It had all the charm and wit of J.M.Barrie's better known play, with a whole world of quirky new characters, all resting on the undeniable foundation of truth and grit that makes the original Peter Pan beloved all over the world. Yet, the exact things that made it ripe for adaptation also posed the biggest challenges for our emerging theatre company. How could we ever create the garden, bird island and Peter's nursery on one set? How could we fill a world with talking birds and fairies and people, with what I knew must be a limited cast, with our limited budget? How could we ever fly, or sail in a boat without ever leaving a stage? How?
In the end the answer was right there in the structure of the book, where all the action is 'told' by an unnamed Narrator and a little boy called David. To compliment the natural castings of our core company we decided to twist this frame in order to honour the tradition of mothers and daughters in Barrie's story, making 'David' a little girl. Of course, being the prequel, this had to be someone who came before Wendy, Jane and Margaret from Barrie's Peter Pan story, so we made our 'David' into 'Mary', who you might know better as Mrs Darling. She has run away because she doesn't want to grow up and our 'Narrator' became her father George. (For those of you that are interested 'Mrs Darling' was named 'Mary' by Barrie after Mary Ansell, who Barrie married. Ansell really did resist growing up, lying about her age throughout her life and eventually dying a full '10-years-younger' than she really was and her father really was called George, we liked these details). The truth of their relationship is based on a real memory I have of running away as a child and, rather than trying to stop me, my Dad helping me to pack my bags and making me a packed lunch (by the time we had finished all my desire to run away was gone, so I simply walked down the road, to keep up appearances, ate my lunch and came home). In this way Mary's situation echoes the baby Peter's and within the frame of her conflict and resolution we were released to tell the Peter's origin story through imagination and play - whilst still allowing the possibility that it could all be true. Without this frame, or something like it, the tricky structure of the book would have been impenetrable to us at this stage in our career. This frame was the key that unlocked the possibility of bringing this story to the stage.