“Second start to the right and straight on to Stratford.”
The Royal Shakespeare Company is renowned for its powerful productions of Shakespeare’s plays. But, as I learnt from Mariah Gale, Ella Hickson’s version of J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan, rivals all other RSC productions. Gale portrays the character of Wendy, the female protagonist in Hickson’s modernised Wendy and Peter Pan. But unlike the books original depiction, Gale informs me that the adapted Wendy is far more independent and spirited.
In our interview, Gale commented on her current role and her attraction and relation to the character of Wendy. While describing Hickson’s production, I noticed her modesty, excitement and her impartial approach to answering my questions made it clear she was born to play the part.
Wendy and Peter Pan will be running in Stratford-Upon-Avon at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until the 31st of January next year. The audience attraction is for both adults and children, which could be a key part of the success. Book tickets now to see if Hickson contests Shakespeare’s ability.
I understand that the performance is an adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, but is there anything that makes it a unique adaptation?
What I think makes this a unique adaptation is – there’re many things. One is that I think that Ella Hickson has very much tried to tell the story from not just from Peter Pan’s point of view but Wendy’s too. I think she was very interested in having a sort of female narrative and what was Wendy’s experience. A story of finding your courage and independence and so it’s sort of, that’s where it expands and explodes J.M Barrie’s inspiration.
So do you think that has a different effect on the audience?
The audiences have been really lovely. There are a lot of children watching, which is wonderful. Right at the beginning of the show a couple of days ago I sat up in bed at one point, and a little girl from the audience said, “Oh Wendy’s awake – she’s woken up!” It was so nice to feel that the girls and boys in the audience followed the journey.
Thinking about the character of Wendy, even though she is a young girl, do you think there are similarities between you and her?
Yes, weirdly I sort of feel more similar to Wendy compared to most of the characters I’ve played. I’ve played some fantastic characters, and I think there are always assets of you that get revealed by the character. You can sometimes discover things in a character where you think, “Oh that’s a useful quality, and I would love to acquire that to my life”. I think the best character in literature can inspire change. With Wendy’s character, there are lots of qualities that are incredibly familiar to me. I think it’s an intricate portrayal of a sort of rite of passage for a girl. She begins rather tentatively, wanting to join in the games that her brothers are playing and feeling a little bit rejected.
At this point in the interview, Gale discussed the games that Wendy and her brothers play and their insistence of Wendy being a damsel compared to Wendy’s determination to be part of the fun. This changes when she meets Peter she decides she wants to be a more powerful role.
She then draws inspiration from one girl she makes a friendship with. She sort of has to prove herself, and she tries to be cool or what she thinks is cool. What she discovers is that it’s cooler to allow yourself to admire wonderful qualities in other people, and you don’t necessarily have to emulate the people that you admire. I sort of feel quite similar, especially when I was at Birmingham Uni, I came there when I was eighteen, and I was very shy. You arrive in Fresher’s week, and you think, ‘Oh my God! I’ll never survive’. I certainly felt like I had to pretend to be very cool and I wasn’t wearing the right trainers. I made some wonderful friends.
Gale then nostalgically spoke of her friends whom she lived with in Selly Oak.
You’re talking about things that we can all relate to so do you think a lot of the performance you can relate to even though it’s a children’s book?
Oh God, yes. That’s what I particularly love – the play is very different from the book. It still has the same wonder and magic. There are jokes that the adults get, and there are jokes that the children get and I think it is accessible to anybody and everybody. I certainly find it very funny.
If you had to play another Shakespeare character – bearing in mind that it can be male – who would you play?
That’s a tricky question because people often ask what has been my favourite character, and it’s always the character – if I’m doing Shakespeare – it’s always the character I’m playing at the time. They are all multi-dimensional, amazing people. (She laughs). You tend to fall in love with the one’s you are currently performing. So, I’d love to play anyone in Shakespeare. They’re all really interesting and wonderful people or wonderfully horrible.
For my last question, if you had to sum up the performance of ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’ in three words what would you say?
(Gale comically struggles not to swear for effect) An absolute blast!