This summer is a exciting one for the young at heart visiting London, especially those who count themselves fans of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, the much-loved 1906 tale of the boy who never grows up. For a limited three-month run this season, a £750,000, 1,100-seat, temporary theater pavilion has been erected in Kensington Gardens to host a new stage production of Peter Pan.
The historic park is where in Barrie found inspiration for his story, and en route to the show audiences can discover some of the sites that the author mentions in the tale. Special Peter Pan-themed tours of Kensington Gardens are available with a Blue Badge Guide (see www.royalparks.org.uk for details), but it's easy enough to do your own DIY tour of Peter Pan sites both in the park and farther afield.
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens
It's been more than a century since the first performance of Peter Pan in London, at the Duke of York Theatre in Covent Garden in 1904, and this summer's offering brings us firmly into the 21st century with its use of groundbreaking 3D and CGI sets that enhance the live action by creating a 360° digital projected backdrop. The highlight is Peter Pan and the Darling children's flight over London, including a stop-off at St Paul's Cathedral.
The play is aimed at ages 5 and up and lasts about 2hrs. Tickets cost £22.50-47.50 (25% discount for under 16, except Saturdays) from www.visitlondon.com/peterpan, with performances running until August 30. The pavilion has a garden for picnicking. The show's official hotel partners are the Royal Garden Hotel (www.royalgardenhotel.co.uk) and Superbreaks. The five-star Royal Garden, just south of Kensington Gardens, is offering a Peter Pan package including tickets to the play, family accommodation, and English breakfast.
A Peter Pan tour of Kensington Gardens starts jist outside the park, at 100 Bayswater Road, where a blue heritage plaque attests to that fact the J.M. Barrie once lived in this house. Barrie walked in the park daily, and within it he met the five Llewelyn Davies boys who dressed up and acted out stories while Barrie told them the story that would become Peter Pan.
Enter the park at the nearby Inverness Terrace Gate and then turn right to reach the Diane Memorial Playground, created in memory of the late Princess of Wales, who lived in Kensington Palace on the south side of the park. Truly innovative in its offerings, the play-park has a loose Peter Pan theme in memory of the fact that J.M. Barrie created the playground that previously stood on this site. Kids up to 12 delight in its almost life-size pirate ship, its teepees, and its beach cove with a stone crocodile.
From here stroll up the Broad Walk to the Round Pound, just as David, the hero of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, does. Like David, you can stop and sail toy yachts here, or better still, a stick boat of your creation.
From the Pond, take the path leading due east down towards the Long Water. Turn left at the water and you'll soon reach a bronze Peter Pan Statue decorated with fairies and woodland creatures. Barrie arranged for this to be installed in the park in the middle of the night, in order that it retain its enchanted aura -- a act that got him into trouble with the authorities.
If parts of Kensington Gardens seem familiar, know that the Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet movie Finding Neverland, which tells part of the story behind the writing of Barrie's book, was partly shot here. Slip into neighboring Hyde Park if you'd like to take a rowing boat out on The Serpentine, the lake famous for hosting the Peter Pan Swimming Cup every Christmas Day, with swimmers braving its freezing waters over a 100-yard course. It's so named because Barrie was the first to award the winner a gold medal.
Peter Pan at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Bloomsbury
A hospital may not be the obvious place to visit as a tourist in London, but this dedicated children's hospital has a special connection with the tale -- J.M Barrie donated the copyright of his book (including future royalties) to it.
Peter Pan tributes that you can see around the hospital include a bronze statue of Peter and Tinkerbell outside the main entrance, a plaque to Barrie in the chapel, and the Peter Pan Café. By prior appointment, you can admire special editions of Peter Pan in various languages in in the hospital archive. Each summer (it was July 11 this year), the hospital organizes a Peter Pan Treasure Hunt in Kensington Gardens (www.gosh.org), with tickets costing £16 for adults, £12 for children 3-16. Proceeds go to the Theatre for Theatres appeal to help treat children with complex neurolocial and cranio-facial conditions.
Rhonda Carrier is the author of London With Kids.
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