Mar 9, 2014

Death of Peter Pan: Michael and Rupert Fall in Love

I've seen many tv and movie versions of Peter Pan, and not liked any of them.  A dog working as a nanny?  Sewing a shadow onto someone's feet?  A boy wanting a little girl to become his "mother"?  Besides, it's impossibly heterosexist -- you "grow up" into heterosexual romance.







But The Death of Peter Pan, by Barry Lowe (1988), is not about the story, it's about the author, J.M. Barrie, and his adopted son Michael Davies, who drowned in the Thames along with his school friend Rupert Buxton on May 19, 1921, shortly before Michael's 21st birthday.

The closeness of their relationship led to speculation that they were lovers and committed suicide together.  Oxford Magazine said: "They were intimate friends, and in death they were not divided."

The play dramatizes their relationship, with shades of Brideshead Revisited. 

While at Eton, Michael meets the colorful bon vivant Rupert Buxton.  They go to Oxford, sample Parisian brothels, take swimming lessons, and take holidays with "Uncle Jim," meanwhile falling in love.

Adolescent romance is always difficult, in 1920s England, where same-sex love is beyond the realm of what can be imagined.


Their out-and-swishy classmate Senhouse is delighted by their "wickedness," Boothby (left) thinks of it as a childish diversion, and "Uncle Jim" himself insists that it cannot exist, that Michael must prepare for marriage.

Once again, Peter Pan must "grow up" into heterosexual romance.

The tragic ending is expected.




The Fly on the Wall production in 2013 starred Kieran McShane as Michael, Jordan Armstrong as Buxton, and Matthew Werkmeister (Neighbours) as Boothby, with ample semi-nude scenes to counteract the depressing script.