Lost boy remembered with Peter Pan at Open Air Theatre

Peter Pan. Image Hugo Glendinning & Feast Creative.
Peter Pan. Image Hugo Glendinning & Feast Creative.

A hundred years ago author JM Barrie was left devastated when the Peter Pan playwright lost a beloved young friend on the Western Front.

Now Timothy Shreader’s new production of Peter Pan, which opens this year’s season at Regents Park Open Air Theatre, is set to remember the tragedy.

Yesterday marked the centenary of the date that George Llewelyn Davies died in action during the First World War.

George was the eldest of the Llewelyn Davies children, who became foster sons of Barrie, and, along with brother Michael, was the writer’s inspiration for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.

To honour the date, the theatre, in association with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, has released images from the J.M. Barrie archive, including the last letter written to Barrie by George Llewelyn Davies from the trenches the day before his death at the age of 21.

Remembering Llewelyn Davies and a generation of lost boys, the play will open on the Western Front of World War I. The production is recommended for ages 9+.

Barrie first met George, aged just four, in Kensington Gardens and became primary guardian of all the boys in 1910 when George was 17, following the death of his parents.

 Jack (L) and George (R). Courtesy of Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity
The Boy Castaways Jack (L) and George (R).

In 1901 Barrie had printed two copies of a photo essay book of his adventures with the Davies boys, entitled The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island.

The following year he published another set of adventures in a novel called The Little White Bird. In a story-within-a-story, the narrator tells “David” (George Llewelyn Davies) about Peter Pan, a seven-day-old boy who flies away from his parents to live with fairies.

All children start out as birds, the story goes, but soon forget how to fly. Peter eventually flies home, and tearfully sees through his nursery window that his mother is holding a new baby and has forgotten him.

Now Peter Pan can never go home and will never grow up. The Little White Bird was popular, and readers begged Barrie to give them more of that new character, Peter Pan.

Peter Pan was given the same age as George (10 years old) when Barrie begins writing the play in 1903.

George enrolled for WW1 in 1914 (along with Uncle, Guy du Maurier). He received commission as a second lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and served in Flanders.

On March 15 1915, George died of a gunshot wound to the head. He was 21 years old.

Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel rediscover Barrie’s original play of Peter Pan, opening May 15.

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