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London Calling with Champagne Charlie - PETER PAN

With summer here all types of exotic locations become available with producers scrambling to turn every usual and never tried out place into a theatrical 'event'. None more so than Charlie Burnell & Mat Churchill's staging of the J.M.Barrie classic 'Peter Pan'.

It being billed as a 'coming home' for the show adapted by Tanya Ronder, will be staged for the first time in over 100 years in a specially designed tent in Kensington Gardens. As JM Barrie wrote in "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens",  

"Standing on the ledge he could see trees far away, which were doubtless the Kensington Gardens, and the moment he saw them he entirely forgot that he was now a little boy in a nightgown, and away he flew, right over the houses into the Gardens." 

The challenge for all on this production is to accurately bring to life the J.M.Barrie vision RIGHT in the place where it was originally set. Tanya Ronder has a reputation for outstanding adaptations of classic works including her award-winning "Vernon God Little" for the Young Vic and "Blood Wedding" at the Almeida. She has done this adaptation of what is emerging as one of London's most spectacular staged events.

I caught up with co producer Charlie Burnell in the middle of the park, supervising the final touches to this 1100 seater 'totally rain proof' tent beside the late Princess Diana's residence in London.

Champagne Charlie
How did this come about?

Charlie Burnell
Well I met Mat in 2005 and by 2006 we'd got focused on what we wanted to do - a 'Peter Pan' like no other. He is an expert in staging large theatre events, the best there is. (In 1998, Mat financed and created the theatre tent for the National Theatre's touring production of "Oh, What a Lovely War!" He also converted the St Andrew Holborn crypt into a temporary theatre, producing Steve Tiller's sell-out production 'Warcrime' in the space.)
We really wanted to do it inside Kensington Gardens. After a few months we felt we had built up enough trust with the Royal Parks for them to see we could really pull this off and the original application went through. It would be for a run of 14 weeks and was in total 100,000 words long. That was enough to convince them along with the council that we could do it.

Champagne Charlie
What was next?

Charlie Burnell
Well, we had to get the right people. I want this to be the DEFINATIVE 'Peter Pan. A modernization of it was out so we went back to its original setting in the early 1900. The Park was where Barrie had met the children the story is based on and after we got permission, everyone was cast on the back of that. Tanya ( ) who had done 'Vernon God Little' was know our director Ben Harrison came back in under two months with her adaptation.

Champagne Charlie
How is it THE DEFINATIVE version?

Charlie Burnell
For one, we kept the 'danger' in the story which often gets left out or watered down.
We also wanted to maintain the danger. But this is a real first because it's the very first time we are having 360 degree CGI and live actors working together at once.

Champagne Charlie
What about the staging

Charlie Burnell
The theatre is round and completely covered. We have a video projected set so when the characters fly - they REALLY fly - right across the whole set and area.
This is the first time this has EVER been done anywhere in the world as part of a live theatre show. Now with the 1st draft ready at the start of 2009 we hit our first problem

Champagne Charlie
What was that?

Charlie Burnell
It was the recession!
We had a lot of money to raise...ALOT of money. So it meat us having to kiss an awful lot of frogs before we found our prince who closed on the money. But we got there!!!!
Meantime The Cast was got together at the start of Jan 2009 and we started the actors on a series of flying workshops to get everyone trained up. We had a whole hanger in South London.

Champagne Charlie
What about the flying?

Charlie Burnell
Now, that was an experience. We gradually got The Cast use to the gear and then started work on the video projection as they 'flew'.
The tent was built in France and the metal to support everything was gotten ready in Italy at the same time.

Champagne Charlie
How are you feeling now you are so near to opening, are you feeling at all nervous?

Charlie Burnell

Well my last shows were 'Honour' with Tony award winner Dame Diana Rigg and 'The Madness of George W' - both for the West End. So it's quite a difference and a challenge.
But you have to nail your colours to the mast and I want to do these kinds of 'big' family shows.

Champagne Charlie
Where to from here?

Charlie Burnell
Well, we are off on tour and then we open in Chicago and start a 2 year US tour.



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