A Neverland like no other, the rugged isle of Portland – a jewel in the Jurassic Coast – starred in a new production of Peter Pan developed by Dorset-based company SISATA with support from Arts University Bournemouth (AUB).

Staged as an outdoor community event on 29 and 30 June at Church Ope Cove on Portland, the production introduced local twists to the classic story of the boy who never grows up, including a crocodile puppet based on the fossilised skull of a pliosaur found at Kimmeridge.

The four-hander play is now set to tour the UK in August and September including local dates in Dorchester, Weymouth, Abbotsbury, Wimborne, Bridport, Christchurch, Fordingbridge, and back to Portland. The show’s also travelling further afield to London, Leeds, and even Scotland before its final stand at Poole’s Lighthouse on 18 and 19 September.

Starting life at the inspirational Swanage Amphitheatre, where SISATA gets its name, the company was born from a love of Shakespeare and a longing to make theatre accessible to all and to involve as much of the community as possible. Charmaine K, writer and director of SISATA, explains how AUB got involved, “I’ve been working with AUB’s acting and costume students since 2011, and a visiting lecturer at AUB since 2018. In 2012, I worked with AUB students on SISATA’s first four-hander and now a lot of our community players are alumni, and some go on to work with me professionally.

“We work really hard to involve the rest of the community; for Peter Pan on Portland, we worked with the Portland Players and Offshoot Collective – an acting group formed from my ex AUB students – who were just amazing, they made it a truly interactive and immersive experience for the audience.”

Charmaine set out to harness the spirit of the original novel and explore a range of current issues, from the climate emergency to culture wars that pit young and old against each other. “There are lots of issues that have been used to cause division on Portland – the Bibby Stockholm, the waste incinerator. The camps seem to split along age lines and sometimes between those whose families have lived on Portland for a long time and relative newcomers. 

“At its heart, Peter Pan is a story about when and how to grow up, about the energy and innovation of youth and the strength and wisdom of experience. If we want to have a good future, a proper future as grown-ups, we have to work together to balance the two. We love casting members of the audience in our productions because it breaks down barriers, but the spirit and the characters created for our utopian adaptation on Portland are universal.”

Steph Bean, Operations Officer at AUB Academy, looks after the short courses, which is how she got involved with SISATA, “I was in their production of The Tempest last year, which I loved so much I just had to come back and get involved again!

“It’s always so much fun because you never know exactly what’s going to happen. Some of the show is scripted, some of it’s improvised as we interact with the audiences, so it really does change every time you perform which keeps it super fresh and exciting.”

As well as actors, AUB also supplied the costumes for the production. Led by Kieran Wilkinson, Technician Demonstrator at AUB, the costume students were tasked with creating 10 adjustable costumes for just £200. Kieran comments, “It certainly was a challenge, not only the budget but we didn’t actually know who we were making the costumes for so we had to design them so they were adjustable and anyone of any size could wear each one. There were lots of ties involved!

“We took the students round the charity shops and to places like Molly’s Den to get clothes that we could adapt into pirate costumes, Mercreatures, and lost children. It was a great project to work on and all the students thoroughly enjoyed it too.”

Charmaine adds, “We had 30 students join us to explore their ideas for the costumes and it was brilliant. They’d never worked on their feet standing up before with live actors and it was wonderful to see them engaging with the company and dressing the actors for publicity shots using old costumes and scraps following the designs for guidance.”

“We really value the support from AUB; its staff, students, and resources. We feel so lucky to be supported by so many, with the support of Portland Marina, Portland Museum, and Lighthouse Poole providing such incredible space for us to rehearse and prepare too, it’s testament to the strength of our community and it feels wonderful to be able to give something back.

“Embedded with history, current affairs, original music and boatloads of fun, this show has something for everyone and we can’t wait to get on the road and share it with the rest of the county and the rest of the UK.”

Tickets are between £5 – £17, to book your tickets, head to SISATA’s website: www.SISATA.co.uk

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