A fresh take on an old classic sees Wendy, John, and Michael Darling return from their glorious adventures in Neverland to find their world terribly changed.
Caught on a brutal treadmill they feel hope slipping away … they need a little magic!
Peter Pan comes to the rescue, having fun with a band of blundering pirates before facing Hook in a chilling showdown.
This award winning 60-minute play with supplied music underscore is true to the spirit of the original classic by J.M Barrie, but without some of the themes which are now problematic.
Plot / Synopsis
The Treasure of Peter Pan is an original play by Helen Dickson, with music by Bill Dickson.
It was first performed 16 -19 October 2019 by Daramalan Theatre Company (DTC), Canberra, Australia. It ran for 5 shows and was sold out from opening night.
It can be seen as a sequel to Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (Barrie 1904) but, more accurately, it offers an alternative ending to the original and takes the action from there:
The Darling children delighted in their Neverland adventures. When it was time to leave, Peter Pan’s fairy dust flew them home. Little did they realise a motley gang of colourful pirates were hot on their heels!
But the children quickly discovered they had much bigger problems. The world had changed while they were gone; they found themselves trapped on a frightening treadmill of modern pressures and stressful busyness. With Hook lurking menacingly in the background, the children were desperate for healing, meaning and hope. Neverland beckons but not without a battle.
The children learn that magic isn’t dependent on where we are, but what we carry inside us. In a tired and fractured world, we’re renewed - optimism, curiosity and imagination triumph, helping us discover our joy within.
Quirky characters, clever word play, and a rich vein of comedy, offer a perfect counterfoil to Hook’s intensity. Astonishing music underpins the action - haunting, suspenseful, upbeat, and inspiring.
From Helen Dickson:
"Reading J. M. Barrie’s play it was evident we could not - and would not - produce it. While it was easy to see the appeal of this magical world, the gendered and racist elements, and outmoded concepts of 1904 have no place in a modern theatre company, nor indeed our world. Even the central figure - the boy who would not (could not?) grow up - was disturbing. The disdain and offhand cruelty he showed to his mates may have been ‘a bit of a laugh’ but we no longer excuse poor behaviour with the adage ‘boys will be boys.’
Yet there was enough to like in the whimsy of Barrie’s writing (even the stage directions were lyrical!) for me not to give up on the magical idea of escaping to a world of play and fun. I wanted to honour his characters and concepts, and to have the magic and fun people seemed to remember."
The play is suitable for a cast of 10-40+ actors, with ages ranging from 8 years old-unlimited. It offers flexibility, being open to different cast sizes, and it is very easy to reduce or expand the cast.
Peter is the gloriously adventurous and spirited heart of the play. This joyous, mercurial child - the vagabond king of children - is boundlessly curious, playful and light. Never one to stand still, Peter skips rather than walks and leaps when not skipping. He has a ready laugh and is always looking for fun and ‘sport’. He’s pretty feisty and rarely without his trademark grin. He wants everyone around him to be happy. He enjoys being the centre of attention and gets stronger with praise. He has a sense of mischief and is quite impish, but this is no longer (like the original version) with malice. He’s happy to prank but not to hurt. While he hasn’t grown up - and he never will - if you look closely you’ll see he’s evolved somewhat; he’s softened around the edges since the Darling children have been on his island. He is still pompous but we notice he’s easily deflated and vulnerable. He thinks he covers this up well, but we know better. He has learned a lot from the children and the stories he’s heard.
In previous versions Peter is often cruel. He clearly doesn’t care about people and has no empathy at all. Perhaps this arrogance was seen as part of his charm. In this version I search for the very best qualities of Peter - his exuberance and happiness - and shape the script to this. I don’t want him to be perfect, (his foibles and shortcomings will be part of his charm) but modern young audiences don’t need to idolise cruelty. Charisma and cruelty are a dangerous mix.
Wendy Moira Angela Darling is a layered character - she is smart, cluey and generally knows what to do, although she is sometimes torn between fun and ‘the right thing to do'. She can get annoyed with Peter (or with herself?) when faced with contradictions or dilemmas. She frequently has no time for Peter’s tantrums. Wendy is still a bit motherly to the younger ones and the children still look to her for stories and advice; but no longer is she in Neverland simply for ‘spring cleaning’ and housework - she is so over that. If she takes a moment to reflect, Wendy would be annoyed that she did it at all. Her clothing reflects this. When she leaves the rigid constraints and conventions of the real world she discovers dresses can be restrictive for play – and revels in pockets, shorts, trousers and bare feet in Neverland. Wendy is on the brink of growing up and finds herself in the murky in-between land of child and teenager/adult. She can see the big picture and can be dispirited by the sorry state of the world. But despite all that, at heart Wendy is passionate, positive, and excited for adventure!
In previous versions Wendy is focused on domestic matters (e.g. she goes to Neverland to be ‘the mother’ to Peter and the Lost Boys and do their cleaning; at Neverland she wants a house not adventure; her own brothers ask if she’s their mother, and at the end of the play, Wendy’s mother suggests she returns to do ‘spring cleaning’ for Peter!)
Tinker Bell is mercurial: she may be passive-aggressive, playful, tsundere … have fun with this. She is sassy! Tink is physical and delights in showing off her acrobatic or dance skills.
John Napoleon Darling, the middle child, is book-smart, with a note pad, glasses, and a top hat. John speaks in a sophisticated way using big words and heightened language. People tell him, proudly, that he takes after his father, George, who uses big words to try to impress people. But John just likes the words for what they are. He loves the way words roll around in his mouth and pop out so deliciously! John loves pirates and sword fighting. John has courage and tries to do the right thing. Even though he enjoys the adventures and loves his time on the island with his idol, Peter Pan, he is happy to go home to his family. He’s a clever young chap with a bit of sass and cheekiness. He is a leader. John is very mature, but also loves being adventurous and playful. John loves hearing Wendy's stories of Peter Pan and at home he plays the character of Captain Hook while his younger brother Michael plays Peter Pan during their nursery games. He gets lost in the world of make-believe for days on end, because he is open to offers.
Michael Nicholas Darling is the youngest and he loves playing games like sword fighting and searching for buried treasure. He always has a teddy bear with him which emphasises his youth. Michael loves Wendy's stories and make-believe games. In Neverland, being so young, he quickly forgets home and when he comes home he cannot remember all the details of Neverland! He lives in the moment. Michael looks up to his brother, John and tries to imitate him, especially in sword fighting and the way he speaks. Michael may rely on his teddy as a confidante, like an imaginary friend, or use the teddy as way to make sense of his changing world. He is ever so young.
As a clerk in a ‘City’ bank, Mr George Darling is a decent man. He is one of many faceless workers in ‘The City’, trying to move up in the world. ‘He sits on a stool all day, as fixed as a postage stamp … so like all the others on stools that you recognise him not by his face but by his stool.’(JMB) He is conscientious, clipped, and precise, and he worries endlessly about ‘what the neighbours will think’. He can appear needy, insecure, and bombastic - he’s driven by the fear that people will find out he’s not good enough. We realise he loves his family and wants the best for them. The real problem is he doubts he’s good enough and, without this trust and faith, he flails. Because he’s doing things for others, and for appearances, he often neglects himself.
‘He is really a good man as breadwinners go, and it is hard luck for him to be propelled into the room now, when if we had brought him in a few minutes earlier or later he might have made a fairer impression.’ (JMB) He blazes into rooms in a hectic, whirlwind fashion with clothes in disarray, creating fear and tension with his strict rules and loud voice. He’s forgotten how to enjoy the things of his youth, or even the rewards of age. He needs the magic of Neverland more than the children. This is an opportunity for a layered portrayal with an intuitive actor.
Mrs Darling, or ‘Mother’ or ‘Mary dearest’, is a settler of arguments and a sorter of things, from socks to dainty thoughts. She is kind, caring and young at heart - she is perhaps playing a role in this thing we call Life. Is she a Stepford Wife? Could she have lived in Pleasantville?
Perhaps she is a brisk character at times, but we see it’s from love (same as George.) I know she has a smile which plays at the corners of her mouth and it travels to her eyes … most days. She loves her children and her husband. She believes in Peter Pan and childhood magic. Is she slightly out of her depth in this busy world … or is her confusion a ruse to get others to do her bidding? Perhaps she is simply innocent? Maybe the allure of this character is … that you never know the truth.
‘She gave up keeping the house books correctly and drew pictures instead (which he called her guesses), he did all the totting up for her, holding her hand while he calculated whether they could have Wendy or not …’ (JMB)
Nana is a Newfoundland dog, hired as a nurse to Wendy, John, and Michael. This would be a highly physical ‘boundless’ role requiring incredible patience and focus. Or Nana could work just as well as a stuffed toy or puppet, providing the cast can bestow life on it.
Irma is an elderly aunt who squirrels assorted objects into her many pockets and frequently has food in her teeth. Mr and Mrs Darling are dismayed when Aunt Irma sees it as ‘her duty to help’ when the Darling children go missing. (Irma, being George’s older sister, has always seen it as her duty to ‘help out’ although she frequently makes things worse by saying what shouldn’t be said or asking awkward questions.) She has many eccentric sayings which the children mimic, causing a smile to pass between George and Mary … unless of course Irma might hear and be offended. Irma mutters ‘ahem, ahem’ clearing her throat of imaginary coughs. By the end of the play there’s tolerance and understanding, and more – there’s a new warmth as sharing the struggles and fear brings them together.
Captain Hook isn’t played in the usual melodramatic, feebly scary or humorous way. He is deeply menacing - a primal fear creeps up our backs when he appears. Yep, our Hook is still a pirate and captain of the Jolly Roger. He is still Peter Pan's arch nemesis wanting revenge on Peter for his hand. But he has stepped it up a notch. He hardly speaks, has very few lines and so he has the heightened threat of the quietly menacing and unknown villain.
So here we have the rich character cameos, the comedy team - the Pirate gang. They are distinct characters who add vocal and physical interest. The Pirates are an eclectic mix. It’s pure circus or physical comedy with strong shapes, bouffant, accents, gestures, mannerisms, heightened vocabulary, etc.
is a wannabe leader who uses big words to sound important. Big physical extravagant gestures as befits leadership status.
is a bit finicky and knows what those big words mean (and corrects Pirate 1 as needed!)
has delicious rich accent, could be the wannabe muscle of the group?
Pirate 4 + Pirate 5
are a comedy duo who work well with each other. They’re full of physicality and laugh at their own jokes. If they catch each other’s eyes during a reprimand there’ll be trouble because they’ll lose it! They’re full of ideas and relish being in disguise (hiding badly in plain sight)
The Neutral Ensemble
The Neutral Ensemble will play a key role in shaping the play, driving the plot and creating character. Play to the strength of your cast. These will be your strongest actors. Breathtakingly physical theatre. They can shape and shadow, be a mirror to your words and actions. They will be the mechanics and undercarriage of flying and magic. They escalate the terror on The Treadmill as they deliver their lines.
A narrative voice (one or more Narrators) guides us gently, reminiscent of a magical ancient storyteller who lures us in, perhaps in the style of Morgan Freeman or Dumbledore. Gripping and effortlessly engaging. Easily heard!
The Lost Children
In previous versions the ‘Lost Boys’ were babes who fell out of prams unnoticed by nannies and went off with Peter to Neverland. Now in our equal opportunity world we don’t just have boys being forgotten …
Perhaps there’s a moment for a line about children abandoned on an island ... or locked up in detention? Maybe there’s a place for some message, or perhaps they’re just kids after all? They must have strong vocal delivery and be responsive and in role, even when not speaking.
The School Children
The Lost Children can appear in Scene 5 The Treadmill as School Children. Or you can split if you have a big cast.
Optional: Lagoon folk, Mermaids, etc.
To expand your cast: if you have actors suited to background shaping, these creatures might frolic in Mermaids' Lagoon in Neverland. They may be vain, or playful and creative gymnasts, or simply showing skill with their use of hands creating shadows against the moon or shapes within rippling water.