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Peter Pan flies high as Co-op Juniors take to the big top

PUBLISHED: 10:58 29 June 2019

Peter Pan by the Ipswich Co-op Juniors theatre company is taking flight in the big top Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Peter Pan by the Ipswich Co-op Juniors theatre company is taking flight in the big top Photo: Mike Kwasniak

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Peter Pan has been a crowd-pleaser since it was first introduced on stage at the dawn of the 20th century. It has magic which enchants each new generation who see it. Now the Ipswich Co-op Juniors are taking the show to the big top

Henry Skillern as Peter Pan in Ipswich Co-op Juniors production of Peter Pan in the big top at Trinity Park Photo: Mike KwasniakHenry Skillern as Peter Pan in Ipswich Co-op Juniors production of Peter Pan in the big top at Trinity Park Photo: Mike Kwasniak

As a big top rises from the ground at Ipswich's Trinity Park, it's a sign that the UK's most ambitious youth musical theatre company is about to launch its audiences on another epic adventure.

The Co-op Juniors Theatre Company hired the 500-seat Circus Fantasia tent for their acclaimed production of Barnum last year. Now, they've set their sights on an even bigger challenge: a vibrant new musical version of Peter Pan, written by the multi-award-winning George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the team behind Cameron Mackintosh's hit stage productions of Mary Poppins and Half a Sixpence.

The magic of Peter Pan has entranced generations since J M Barrie wrote the first play in 1904 about the boy who wouldn't grow up, following it seven years later with the novel Peter and Wendy.

Now, on a huge circular stage under the Big Top, that magic will be given new life as Peter Pan's adventures in Never Land will help inspire the imagination of theatre-goers to take flight.

In rehearsal Chris Evans as Captain Hook takes on his nemesis Peter Pan, played by Henry Skillern
Photo: Mike KwasniakIn rehearsal Chris Evans as Captain Hook takes on his nemesis Peter Pan, played by Henry Skillern Photo: Mike Kwasniak

For director and designer Oliver Brett, the chance to revisit the Big Top was irresistible, as Peter Pan is his favourite story.

"It starts with children in the nursery reading stories to each other. Peter Pan and Captain Hook come to life from the books and suddenly we're in this world where we're not sure if we're still in the nursery or playing make-believe. Then these gritty pirates magically appear.

"The story has everything in it. There's something magical in the air."

For 16-year-old Henry Skillern from Bury St Edmunds, playing the mischievous Peter is "an adventure in every way. "I'm working with a great cast and a director who is so creative and clear in what he wants," says Henry.

Rehearsals for Ipswich Co-op Juniors production of Peter Pan in the big top at Trinity Park Photo: Mike KwasniakRehearsals for Ipswich Co-op Juniors production of Peter Pan in the big top at Trinity Park Photo: Mike Kwasniak

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"Peter Pan is seen as a hero and yet he's a child-like figure who has massive issues and Wendy causes so much anguish for him."

For Courtney Yule as Wendy Darling, life with Peter and The Lost Boys was a revelation. "She's feisty, always in competition with Peter," says Courtney, 16.

"Using the nursery as Never Land brings the story to life as you're transported to a magical place where anything can happen - and it does! The musical numbers are amazing, hearing the orchestra for the first time, with our musical director Jo King, was exciting."

Chris Evans as Captain Hook in Ipswich Co-op Juniors production of Peter Pan in the big top at Trinity Park Photo: Mike KwasniakChris Evans as Captain Hook in Ipswich Co-op Juniors production of Peter Pan in the big top at Trinity Park Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Chris Evans shares director Oliver Brett's fascination with villains, so stepping into Captain Hook's boots was a real thrill. "Hook is worried about getting old and is faced with this arrogant young boy. He hates Peter Pan and resents that Peter has youth on his side.

"It's fun because he's so insecure and child-like in some ways. There are so many different emotions to him. Dark and evil, but he'll be giddy and frivolous the next."

Oliver Brett adds, "There's something entrancing and captivating about Peter Pan. It never seems to age, the story is timeless for generation after generation.

"Captain Hook is an image of old age and Peter Pan is the epitome of youth, so they're constantly colliding. Hook is always being chased not just by the crocodile but the sound of the ticking alarm clock. He's being chased by time itself and it's running out.

"Peter Pan says 'I'm youth, I'm freedom, I'm joy.' That's everything that Hook is not. Hook has been in Never Land a long time and this vendetta against Peter Pan has taken its toll. He's losing it, becoming more and more fractured, even his hook is rusting!

As with any Co-op Juniors show there are surprises, with secret entrances and exits for the Lost Boys and pirates, mermaids in a stunning lagoon, and a pirate ship.

Oliver explains, "We love surprising and delighting our audiences. This is a show that appeals to all ages. But some secrets won't be revealed until audiences come with us on this musical adventure."

Peter Pan, staged by Ipswich Co-op Juniors is at Trinity Park, Ipswich, from July 6-7,11-14. Seats from £10. Times and more information coopjuniors.co.uk For tickets: Call 01473 295900 or wolseytheatre.co.uk/peterpan

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