The National Theatre of Scotland tackle Peter Pan

The National Theatre of Scotland tackle Peter Pan

As the National Theatre of Scotland mounts its biggest production to date, Kelly Apter discusses the enduring appeal of Peter Pan with Hook actor Cal MacAninch

As a mountain rescuer on the TV show, Rockface, Cal MacAninch scaled heights, clung to mountain sides and battled the elements. Yet according to the Glasgow-born actor, playing Captain Hook in the National Theatre of Scotland’s new production of Peter Pan is ‘the hardest job I’ve ever done’.

Brimming with aerial work, acrobatics and dynamic sword fights, the show aims to give audiences a thrilling ride through JM Barrie’s fantasy world. Inevitably, however, the cast has picked up a few sore muscles along the way. ‘It’s a very physical show and we’ve done a lot of aerial training,’ explains MacAninch. ‘But I’ve only got one hand because of the hook, which has put a lot of strain on my other arm. So physically it’s been really tough, but it’s also incredibly exhilarating. And I’m pretty sure that when everyone gets to see it, we’ll be flying – literally.’

Barrie’s early 20th century tale may be filled with ‘awfully big adventures’, but it’s also a multi-layered text tackling two of humanity’s biggest storylines: love and death. Taking on the dual roles of family man, Mr Darling and deliciously wicked pirate Captain Hook, MacAninch was surprised to find the hidden depths within Peter Pan. ‘I had no idea just how rich this story was until we started working on it,’ he says. ‘It’s extraordinary – the myths of childhood, growing up, how parents have to let go of their children – it’s all in there.’

As for Hook himself, MacAninch has discovered a complexity to the character belied by his devilish exterior. ‘Peter is like a child because he’s so in the moment it’s almost like being immortal,’ he says. ‘Whereas Hook is always contemplating life and waiting for the crocodile – his fate – to arrive, and I think that’s really interesting. Hook is frightened of youth because it reminds him he’s going to die soon, so we’ve been exploring his relationship with mortality.’

MacAninch is just one piece in a talented jigsaw the National Theatre of Scotland has assembled. Adapted by multi award-winning playwright David Greig and directed by Olivier Award winner John Tiffany, Peter Pan also benefits from a 17-strong cast and music from Black Watch composer Davey Anderson.

With so many versions of Peter Pan floating around, from Barrie’s initial short story to his hugely successful play and subsequent films, Greig’s first job was to clarify which story they were telling. Now re-imagined in Victorian Edinburgh, Mr Darling works as an engineer on the construction of the Forth Bridge. But as far as MacAninch is concerned, the join between Greig’s words and the original text is seamless.

‘I can’t tell which words are David’s and which are Barrie’s,’ he says. ‘It’s an amazing piece of work and David has done an incredible job enriching the text – it’s beautiful to speak as an actor and great fun to play. It’s a huge show with everybody working really hard together, and if people think they’ve seen Peter Pan, they haven’t seen anything yet.’

Peter Pan, King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 23 Apr–Sat 8 May, then touring.

Peter Pan

The tale of the boy who never grew up is given a Scottish flavour, in keeping with the nationality of its creator, JM Barrie, who was born 150 years ago. With flying children, thrilling sword fights, fire-eaters, acrobatics, dastardly pirates and the ominous ticking of the crocodile, this production promises excitement…