By Pan Zador, author of Act of Love
This is the season of pantomimes and theatrical treats for children. My London childhood is shot through with vivid memories of J.M. Barrie’s stage play Peter Pan, which always had a Christmas season at the old Scala Theatre. The Scala was a jewel: a Victorian auditorium with the red swagged curtains, the plaster cherubs and the orchestra pit with its brass fittings — and always, of course, a live orchestra. That is the theatre in my mind when I describe the interior of the Tower Theatre in Act of Love.
My father was a theatre carpenter — he did not spend all his time making scenery, but was responsible for the entire backstage crew, the scene changes, and, once on the road, for the transport of the set from town to town by lorry and train.
In Peter Pan the sets are large, and complicated by the need for some of the characters to fly across the stage. Even though I had been brought to see this play since I was a babe in arms, what happened the year I was eight was unforgettable.
Before the curtain rose, my mother took me and my younger brother backstage and we walked around the Darlings’ nursery, while at the same time we could hear the sounds of the excited audience arriving and settling in their seats. My father showed us the crocodile and we were allowed to open its terrifying jaws, and then asked me if I would like to fly. My reply was an ecstatic “Yes!” He put the harness around me and gave a direction to one of his stage crew, and in a moment I was being lifted and carried through the nursery windows and onto Wendy’s bed, then to the mantelpiece, then across the room to a chair. I was, for a brief moment, Peter Pan himself. Dizzy with delight, I already knew I wanted to act; that night sealed my determination to do it.
In later years I created many plays for children, and I like to think I brought to my role, whether it was the back half of a pantomime reindeer, or the stark white Snow Queen, glittering with evil, an understanding of the magic that children so readily accept.
My hope with Act of Love is to bring to the reader the sense of breathless excitement that still inhabits live theatre. When the nerves and adrenaline of a first night are mixed with the terror and bliss of a love affair, the alchemy of theatre is at its most potent. In Marigold Aubrey, I hope I have created a sympathetic heroine who is just beginning her life in theatre but through whose eyes we dream dreams and taste success and failure. And in Tor Douglas, my hero, we see a man who is by turns terrifying, lovable, critical, furious or vulnerable, and whose stunning physical presence will, I hope, engage the reader. Does he really exist? Ah, that would be telling!
Do you have a special memory involving the magic of live theatre? Share your stories in the comments!
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Check out this great interview with Pan at The View From Here magazine!