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Theatre / Peter Pan (1904)

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Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up is a play by J. M. Barrie, first performed in December 1904.

Three children — Wendy, John, and Michael Darling — are whisked away by the magical boy Peter Pan on an adventure to the magical Neverland, where they meet Peter's band of Lost Boys and deal with hazards including a crew of pirates led by the diabolical Captain Hook. In the end, the three children decide to return home, and the Lost Boys are persuaded to come with them, but Peter chooses to continue living in Neverland, where he will always be a child and never grow up.

Peter Pan first appeared in the story "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens". Barrie adapted the plot of the play into a novel, known as Peter and Wendy or just Peter Pan and published in 1911. He also continued to revise the play even after its debut, eventually publishing a definitive version of the script in 1928. The play continues to be a perennial of the December theatrical season, and play and novel between them have inspired numerous adaptations, sequels, and prequels.

This play contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Smee. He's not a nice man—after all, he is trying to kill the Lost Boys—but he's so unintentionally pleasant and charming in his dim-witted way that everyone loves him. Captain Hook observes that Smee is happy because he thinks that the boys fear him, even though he lets Michael try on his spectacles.
  • And You Were There: The sinister Captain Hook is traditionally played by the same actor as Mr Darling, the father of the three children.
  • Audience Participation: Captain Hook poisons a drink intended for Peter, and the fairy Tinker Bell foils him by drinking it herself; Peter then encourages the audience to prevent her death by making a noise to show that they believe in fairies.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: When Hook senses that death is imminent, he tries to blow up his entire ship.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The Trope Namer. It's said that fairies are dependent on the belief of children to survive; if a child stops believing in fairies, a fairy will die, and apparently enough children believing can save a fairy from dying. So Peter asks them to clap to express their belief in fairies.
  • Crosscast Role: Borrowing from Pantomime tradition, Peter is played by a young woman and the Darlings' nursemaid Nana is played by a male comedian.
  • Dead All Along: One possible interpretation of Peter's status is that he will never grow up because he is already dead, but isn't consciously aware of the fact. There is no explicit statement of this in the play, but there are hints, such as his complete aversion to being touched, which Barrie may have included deliberately.
  • Dressed to Plunder: Captain Hook even introduced the Hook Hand as part of the standard pirate attire.
  • Driven to Suicide: Hook, upon being defeated, goes to the crocodile "like one greeting a friend."
  • Either/Or Title: Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up
  • Even the Dog Is Ashamed: Mr Darling tries to persuade Michael to take his medicine by pretending to take some of his own, but actually pours it out. When the deception is discovered, Nana the family dog joins the children in expressing disapproval.
  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear: The crocodile finally gets Hook in the climactic scene.
  • Exploiting the Fourth Wall: When Peter needs a group of children in a hurry to save Tinker Bell, and none of the Darling children or Lost Boys are available because they've been captured by the pirates, he turns to the audience to find them.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Wendy (until Peter saves her) and Hook (when he's eaten by the crocodile).
  • Fairy Companion: Tinker Bell.
  • The Ghost: In many productions, the Crocodile is never seen onstage for practical purposes, though she is frequently mentioned and, of course, heard.
  • Got Volunteered: There's a mysterious creature lurking in the captain's cabin, and the first couple of pirates sent in to fetch it out have not returned. Hook asks who's going in next.
    [No one steps forward.]
    Starkey: [injudiciously] Wait till Cecco comes out.
    Hook: I think I heard you volunteer, Starkey.
  • Hates Being Touched: Peter is never touched by another character in the play. This trope is highlighted in the dialogue and stage directions shortly after he first meets Wendy.
    [She leaps out of bed to put her arms round him, but he draws back; he does not know why, but he knows he must draw back.]
    Peter: You mustn't touch me.
    Wendy: Why?
    Peter: No one must ever touch me.
    Wendy: Why?
    Peter: I don't know.
  • I Am the Noun:
    Peter: I am youth. I am joy. I am freedom!
  • Intelligible Unintelligible: Tinker Bell's voice is represented by tinkling bells, which Peter reacts to as if he understands it.
  • Just Desserts: Captain Hook ends up getting eaten by the crocodile.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: This is Slightly's shtick. While none of the Lost Boys remember anything about life before they joined Peter's band, Slightly is constantly faking knowledge, convinced that he remembers himself.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Yet another reprise of the pirate's Villain Song gets interrupted when Peter kills Bill Jukes.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Even after gaining celebrity through riding to work in Nana's kennel, George Darling gets no respect from the maid, Liza. In fact, her respect for him actually lessens.
  • Oedipus Complex: The pre-teen Wendy Darling has undertones of an Electra complex. It's telling that the original play instructs the casting director to cast the same man as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook wherever possible.
  • Pantomime Animal: Nana the dog is played by a man in a dog suit. Averted with the Crocodile, who is usually either depicted via a large puppet or, if money is an issue, simply not shown onstage at all (instead being alluded to through verbal references or her usual ominous ticking).
  • Playing House: Wendy, John and Michael play house in the nursery at the beginning of the play. Of course, the entire play ends up being a prolonged game of house with Wendy being the mother and all the Lost Boys and Peter being her children.
  • Servile Snarker: The Darling's sole servant, Liza, toward the end of the play. Granted, her master was living in a dog kennel at the time, so he was practically begging to be snarked at.
  • Significant Double Casting: It is tradition to have Mr. Darling and Captain Hook be played by the same actor, likely because both characters represent the adult antagonist determined to destroy childhood fun. Originally, Hook was considered to be played by the actress who played Mrs. Darling but actor Gerald du Maurier persuaded Barrie to let him take the role of Captain Hook (however, some play adaptations do have Mrs. Darling play as Captain Hook).
  • Spark Fairy: Tinker Bell is commonly depicted as a glowing point of light, based on the original medium using a small light reflected from a mirror and a tinkling bell.
  • The Storyteller: Wendy. The fact that she knows "lots of stories" is what makes Peter take her to Never Land in the first place, since the Lost Boys don't know any stories.
  • Tonto Talk: The Indians that live in Neverland speak like this.
    Tiger Lily: Pirates! Have um scalps? What you say?
    Panther: Scalp um, oho, velly quick.
    The Braves: [in corroboration] Ugh, ugh, wah.
  • Villain Song: The pirates, especially Hook, have a habit of bursting into song:
    Avast, belay, when I appear By fear they're overtook
    Nought's left upon your bones when you Have shaken claws with Hook
  • World of Ham: Neverland — Justifiable, since it is the product of children's imagination. The pirates, and Captain Hook especially, are generally Chewing the Scenery with great enthusiasm in most productions.