Q & A: Director Daisy Evans On The Haydn Foundation’s Forthcoming World Premiere ‘Peter Pan’ – The Dark Side’

By Alan Neilson

J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” the mischievous, free-spirited child who never grows up, has exerted a hold over children and even many adults for well over 100 years. His adventures set in Neverland, with its array of comic book characters such as Captain Hook, Tinker Bell, the crocodile, the Lost Boys, and Wendy, have fascinated and entertained over the generations. Peter Pan has become so embedded in Western culture that his name and cartoon image have become instantly recognizable. His name has become synonymous with men who appear to be eternally youthful or whose behavior never matures into that of an adult.

The character has spawned comics, books, films, cartoons, plays, musicals, and operas. Later this month, Bolzano’s Haydn Foundation will add to the catalog with the premiere of Wolfgang Mitterer and David Pountney’s new opera, entitled “Peter Pan – The Dark Side,” conducted by Tim Redmond.

The title suggests that it is not going to be a standard retelling of the story, but rather a deconstructed version. Of course, deconstructing well-known works for the stage is not at all unusual these days. Often, they are presented in such a form that they are almost unrecognizable and are roundly criticized. Occasionally, however, they prove to be insightful and helpful in uncovering themes that lie beneath the surface. So, what is “the dark side” to which the title refers?

OperaWire talked with the production’s director, Daisy Evans, to find out more about the opera and her plans for the staging.

What is the dark side, and how does this telling of “Peter Pan” differ from the norm?

The idea for the opera came from the Haydn Foundation’s artistic director, Matthias Lošek, who has been fascinated with “Peter Pan” for a long time. He commissioned the piece from David Pountney and Wolfgang Mitterer.

Normally, we see the story of Peter Pan in the context of Edwardian London, but we wanted to reimagine the story as if it were written today, and when you look at the character of Peter Pan from different angles, there are many things about him that are not good.

The piece is viewed through the eyes of Wendy, who meets Peter Pan on the internet. He is an ambiguous figure and presents the dangers young people face when they engage with people they meet online. Wendy has suffered a dark trauma, and it is unclear as to its cause. Therefore, we took the decision to focus on the consequences of the trauma rather than its cause.

She spends her time in her room, alone, online, and therefore susceptible to the problems of bullying, abuse, and even suicide. Her life becomes intertwined with the internet. Peter invites her to join him in Neverland by throwing herself out of the window. I researched what happens when people fall from high buildings and found that they pass out before they hit the ground. This opens up a variety of possibilities. Is Wendy hallucinating? Is she in a dream state? Has she even left the room? There is ambiguity here. When she hits the ground, is she dead? These are questions left for the audience to decide upon.

In Neverland, she meets all the characters: Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Tinker Bell, the Crocodile, and The Lost Boys. Neverland is a modern-day dystopia of high-rise flats, crime, drug abuse, and brutality.

It is a well-crafted and well-realized piece in which the boundaries between reality and the digital world of the internet are blurred and which feed into her imagination. The audience is left to decide where to draw the lines.

Are the characters the same as the originals?


There are aspects that are, but the characters are not the childlike figures as in the original. They have been altered to fit with present-day behavior and have lost their cartoon identities. So, Hook is a docker who makes extra money stealing from the cargoes. He is still Peter’s enemy and is violent, but he also has a sociable side and gets along with others. Tinker Bell is demanding and vindictive. The Crocodile is an atmosphere of pestilence that represents everything that is seedy about human nature, but it does appear in a physical state. Also, Peter is not a good figure. Only Wendy is a positive character.

What form do the staging and costumes take?

It is a modern-day dystopia, and the staging reflects this. Costumes are modern, colorful, and include such fashions as punk.

So, it is not an opera for children?

Absolutely not.

Are there any positives?

It is a devastating piece. Nobody is a winner. Peter Pan doesn’t win, and in a strange way, there is a positivity in that. There is a definite sadness at the end. It is bittersweet. Wendy does remain true to herself, and Peter and Hook don’t get her. You actually feel that, in the end, Neverland sets her spirit free, and there is hope in that.

What attracted you to the work?

I was attracted by the opportunity of presenting “Peter Pan” in a way that speaks directly to today’s audience. A Disney-style production would not be of much interest. I want to re-evaluate what is, after all, a traditional children’s story so that adults can engage with the work and challenge their traditional impressions of the work by allowing it to shine a light on today’s society.

So you have a positive view of deconstructing well-known works such as “Peter Pan?”

I liken deconstructing a well-known work to reviving a painting that has lost its color. It hangs on the wall, but it is dark; its meaning, its reputation, and its beauty are acknowledged more by reputation than anything else. Once it has been restored and cleaned up, it is refreshed; we can see its real colors and its true beauty, and its meaning is revealed in greater detail.

What is the message you hope to convey with this production?

I want the audience members to leave the theatre thinking twice about their internet use, about the destructive parts of the internet, about the damage it does to children and young girls in particular, about cyberbullying and the children who have been driven to suicide. We must take internet use seriously, and I want adults to question how they and their children use it. The piece is a cautionary tale for adults. The cynical side of me does fear social media, as we don’t understand its long-term effects yet, and we must all take it seriously.

The generation coming up now, who are in their teens and 20s, are the first not to have known a life without the internet, and we must accept that there are negative consequences for children who have open access to its use. Parental controls are totally inadequate and will not help in any significant way.

The core of my message is that parents must think very carefully about the physical, mental, and moral effects of the internet. There are negative consequences for children if they are given open access to the internet. Parental controls are not really going to help.

Most contemporary operas rarely receive performances after their initial run. Would you deem it a failure if this was the case with “Peter Pan: The Dark Side”? 

Actually, it has already been scheduled for further stagings in Innsbruck. So, it does have a future beyond its two performances in Bolzano.

However, for me, its success will depend on how it is received by the public. It has an important message, and I believe it is a beautifully and cleverly crafted work. If the audiences see this, then I will judge it as having been a success.


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