It’s been a long time between drinks for Death of Peter Pan director Robert Chuter – 24 years, in fact, since he first staged acclaimed playwright Barry Lowe’s heartrending tale of stifled love in 1920s Eton.
The show garnered three Green Room Awards after its 1989 production at the Universal and La Mama Theatres – something that the lead actor in the current reincarnation of the play, Kieran McShane, said had given him an extra boost of confidence.
“We all feel like we’re in really good hands. To be a part of it this time around, some 24 years later… I can see that the themes of the play are still relevant in this day and age, which is quite scary,” he told the Star Observer.
“There’s definitely an added pressure remounting a production that’s been successful in the past, but to be a part of it in 2013 and see what I can bring to the production is a thrill.”
Inspired by a true story, Death of Peter Pan focuses on Michael Llewelyn Davies (McShane), adopted son of famed Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, and inspiration for that character. Davies finds himself swept up by the charms of the handsome, free-spirited Rupert Buxton (Jordan Armstrong), who is as impulsive and uninhibited as Davies is not.
The two embark on a secret love affair, but as their bond deepens, it threatens to have disastrous consequences.
Despite all the action taking place in the ultra-closeted world of 1920s Britain, McShane said he thought Death of Peter Pan still held relevance for today’s audiences.
“It’s not entirely just about a gay relationship – it’s a real coming of age story about that age where people figure out who they want to be when they grow up. The relationship that evolves through this play makes Michael realise he can be with somebody he loves, regardless of gender, age, race or anything like that. In today’s world, as we know, that fight for equality can still be hindered.”
With Michael and Rupert’s relationship forming the basis of the play, McShane said it was important he established a close rapport with fellow actor Armstrong from the outset.
“There’s a lot of trust involved in a role like this, and I’ve had a lot of time to get to know Jordan. We’ve become close mates in the process, which is really helpful in building that connection. Our characters go on such a journey together.”
A journey that, as with so many queer-themed plays, comes with a warning about on-stage nudity.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have to get nude,” McShane chuckled.
“This is my stage debut, so in the future I’d have to think about whether or not I could do it. But I have full respect for the actors in the play that do disrobe – I think to get up on stage regardless is quite an achievement, but to take your clothes off in front of strangers? Wow.”
INFO: Death of Peter Pan, Chapel Off Chapel, May 22-June 2. www.chapeloffchapel.com.au