WINTER WONDERLAND: London theatregoers still turn unexpectedly traditional at this time of year--though we can expect some subtle twists and turns on the old family classics. Consider Peter Pan at the National for instance: Ian McKellen is doing the traditional double of Mr. Darling and the villainous Captain Hook, but with a boy now playing Peter and Alec McCowen wandering around the set as J. M. Barrie himself, pointing up the chilly contrast between an apparently innocent bedtime story and the dark forces of evil, death and, yes, even homosexuality, which lie buried only just beneath the waters of Peter's magic kingdom. Never before onstage or screen, and only very seldom in print, even now almost a century after the first production, has it been noted that there was something distinctly uneasy about Barrie's relationship with the five "lost boys" he virtually adopted around the boating lake in Kensington Gardens and who became the models for his story.
Two of those boys took their own lives, one because he was caught up in a homosexual scandal that he feared could harm Barrie's considerable reputation, and the other because after 50 years he could no longer stand the strain of being known as "the real Peter Pan." It is a dark and mysterious story, and we are only now beginning to cut through the tinsel and finally discover what truly lies in the back of Barrie's often fearful imaginings.
For those who prefer their Christmas shows a little less threatening, we also have a first-ever West End staging of Bugsy Malone, the classic splattergun movie about the girls and boys who inherit Capone's Chicago empire in the thirties and turn it into a wildly funny parody of every kid-gangster stunt you have ever seen on the wide screen. After the Godfathers, we now have the Godsons, and they sing a lot better, too.
Elsewhere, for those who like their classics overtaken and updated, we also have (at the Piccadilly) Matthew Bourne's breath-taking Cinderella, moved to the middle of the l943 Blitz, so that the ball she finally goes to just happens to be at the Cafe de Paris the night they bombed Snakehips Johnson and effectively put an end to all London cabaret until even now we are still struggling 50 years later to get it back on its West End feet. But the miracle of Bourne and his brilliant young dancers is that for the first time since Diaghilev in the 1920's, he has torn ballet out of the specialist dance houses and set it up on a commercial eight-shows-a-week basis, there to challenge all the other big musical hits from Phantom to Cats.
Treats around the fringe include the first-ever staging of Stephen Sondheim's very first score, one called Saturday Night, which has never until now surfaced from his trunk, though one or two numbers from it have been heard in the anthology Marry Me a Little.
BUCKLE YOUR SWASH, GADZOOKS: At the Lyric we now have Antony Sher as the dueling Cyrano de Bergerac, while The Three Musketeers are riding toward Shaftesbury Avenue hotly pursued by the evil Madame de Winter. Other big musicals on the horizon (apart from Chicago, which has already become the hottest ticket in town thanks to some massive publicity and the unusual double act of Ute Lemper and Ruthie Henshall) include Phillip Schofield in Rex Harrison's Dr. Dolittle, Rent from Broadway, Saturday Night Fever from Hollywood, another return of West Side Story and A Chorus Line from the road, plus The Secret Garden, The King and I, Bells Are Ringing and Gypsy, all from the Broadway trunk but all as yet uncast.
New British musicals are not exactly thick on the ground at the end of the year. The abrupt withdrawal of Jerry Lewis's Damn Yankees revival over here in the summer may not augur too well for Simon Callow's plans for a major new revival of the same team's The Pajama Game, but there are murmurings of a new score for the Pet Shop Boys and a Rob Bettinson show about the Teddy Boys who, no relation to Roosevelt, were our James Deans of the mid-l950's, those at least who could afford a motorbike.
WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY: After a powerful summer in autobiographical drama, during which we have seen on London stages Harold Macmillan, Clement Attlee, Tom Driberg, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (in both a straight play and a musical) and A. E. Housman in Tom Stoppard's touching, brilliant account of the poet at Oxford and in hell (The Invention of Love), plans are already under way for Liam Neeson to play Oscar Wilde up at the hugely fashionable Almeida; there soon we are also likely to get Diana Rigg in Racine's Andromaque and a new Edward Albee, The Play About the Baby.
-- By Sheridan Morley