Peter Pan Captures the Joy of Childhood

5 mins read

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Cooper Harrington-Fei '17, Sarah Branch '17, and Grant Torre '17.
Cooper Harrington-Fei ’17, Sarah Branch ’17, and Grant Torre ’17.

Nostalgic Swatties in the mood to forget about upcoming finals can look to Peter Pan, playing this weekend at the Frear Theater. The show, Katie Goldman ‘14’s directorial thesis, takes on the daunting task of translating the lively, fanciful classic to the Swarthmore stage.

The story of Peter Pan is very familiar to many: one day, the children of the Darling family (Sarah Branch ‘17, Grant Torre ‘17, and Cooper Harrington-Fei ‘17)  awaken to find that a strange boy called Peter Pan (Maddie Charne ‘14) had come through their window, accompanied by his fairy. He tells them he lives on his own, separate from the constraints of civilization. He then shows them how to fly and takes them on a journey to Neverland, a place that’s home to both pirates and fairies, where children never grow old. As a story, it’s a celebration of childhood, slightly tinged with the sadness of an adult perspective.

“I have always loved the story of Peter Pan […] It’s one of my favorite stories, and it also seemed sort of timely,” said Goldman.

She remarked that the choice of the play as her directorial thesis may have held some subconscious relevance for her. “Oh, this story is about growing up and I’m a senior in my spring semester,” she recalled realizing.

Goldman noted that the story of Peter Pan had long been interesting to her, specifically “the idea of Neverland, and the idea that you would never have to grow up.” The significance of aging had been a concern of hers, even as a child.

“I remember having a bit of an existential crisis when I turned ten, because I was entering two digits and I could never go back to being nine ever again,” Goldman said.

The staging of this play was complex, and proved challenging for those involved. Goldman remarked that there were several logistical concerns she had failed to consider before she had chosen this material: the play required several different locations and the ability to depict flying characters. The material also required a very large cast.

“I realized as it evolved that it was this huge ordeal,” Goldman said.

However, the play manages to stage its fantastic material in a clear and engaging way. Although there are several settings to keep track of, the production manages to switch between them seamlessly. All of the action of the play is translated to the stage quite deftly.

The vast majority of the performance kept true to the original material. However, there were a few changes made: in this production, the character of Tiger Lily, the Indian princess, and the rest of the Natives were removed due to their problematic modern implications.

Sarah Branch '17 and Madeline Charne '14.
Sarah Branch ’17 and Madeline Charne ’14.

“When J. M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan, he wrote it as if everything was being imagined in the mind of a ten year old child. So, the pirates were not the way pirates would actually be, but the way pirates would be imagined by a ten year old boy. The same was true of the Natives. It was just really a problematic idea,” Goldman said. These changes, she remarked, ultimately had little effect on the main story.

The show benefits from having a uniquely large ensemble: the interactions between cast members are fun and engaging. The staging tends towards goofy and broad, well-suited for the childlike characters.

The final performance is ultimately the result of hard work from everyone involved.

“The cast has jumped in feet first and gone above and beyond, and the crew has done the same. I’ve thrown these impossible things at them and they’ve just adapted. It’s been a logistical nightmare, but they’ve all stepped up and blown me away,” Goldman said.

Photos by Anita Castillo-Halvorssen ’15/The Daily Gazette.

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