There are writers who get forgotten and J M Barrie is surely one of them. Peter Pan
is still remembered but the lost boy has long since been Disneyfied. If he is
written about, it is usually in terms of just how close Barrie was to the Llewelyn Davies children who inspired it. But who has read A Window in Thrums
, The Little Minister
– it was made into a musical, as was his first play Quality Street
– The Twelve Pound Look
or the Old Lady Shows Her Medals
The chances of his plays like The Admirable Crichton, Dear Brutus, What Every Woman Knows
or Mary Rose
being revived are pretty slim. The last was named by the doyen of theatre critics, Michael Billington, as one of the great forgotten plays of the last century.
Until his death in 1937, Barrie's plays were performed regularly in the West End and on Broadway. A quirky revival of Quality Street
directed by Laurie Sansom, Barrie's first West End hit in 1902, is currently touring in England. There are no Scottish dates should you ask. But seeing it made me wonder when I had last been to a Barrie play. It turned out to be a pretty awful fringe production of Mary Rose
a decade or so ago. Billington could be right about its greatness, but it is a difficult fey affair which, if they get it wrong, is one you want to forget having seen.
Television has voraciously consumed the works of Jane Austen and invented one or two like Bridgerton
'in the style of' for good measure. Dickens surfaces regularly. Great Expectations
with Olivia Colman chewing up the scenery as Miss Havisham is the latest adaptation to land in our living rooms.
When did you last see a Barrie play in a theatre or on television? When did you last read one of his books? Peter Pan
keeps his name alive but there is so much more. Barrie's novels were in my grandparents' book cupboard and I read them as a boy, shedding tears over A Window in Thrums
about his Kirriemuir boyhood while Peter Pan
played, I think, by Celia Johnson – Google let me down badly when I tried to check – was my introduction, pantomime apart, to live theatre. (I was not impressed by the flying as I could see the wires from which the cast were suspended.)
The once annual Christmas productions of Peter Pan
seem to have disappeared although Peter Pan Goes Wrong
– the latest in that hugely successful series of plays – is due to tour this autumn.
Barrie's plays may not be being performed and his books may not be on your neighbourhood bookshop shelves but play texts and books are available online.
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