Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Bandelero the Bandit

J.M. Barrie’s “lost” first play returns as Joanna Lumley launches £1.5m storytelling centre appeal
Scottish Youth Theatre and Moat Brae Trust collaborate to bring Bandelero the Bandit and scenes from Peter Pan to the stage.

JM Barrie’s “lost” first play is being revived after nearly 140 years as a final £1.5m campaign is launched for a national children’s literature and storytelling centre for Scotland.

Bandelero the Bandit was written by Barrie as a pupil at Dumfries Academy and performed there in 1877 when he was just 17. He later thought it had been destroyed and wrote, with clear regret: “No page of it remains …”

However the script survived – ending up in the USA – and Bandelero is back at the academy on June 26 thanks to a collaboration between the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust (PPMBT) and Scottish Youth Theatre (SYT).

The audience will be treated to a rehearsed reading of the 30-minute play by young actors from across Scotland, who will then present the much-loved nursery scenes from Barrie’s most celebrated work, Peter Pan.

The event is also part of this week’s launch of PPMBT’s final drive to raise the remaining money needed to restore the nearby Moat Brae House and garden, where Barrie played as a child and first imagined Peter Pan.

Another key element of the campaign is a new video appeal by trust patron Joanna Lumley, who said: “This is such an exciting week for us, with Bandelero and the launch of our final fundraising push. Imagine, being able to revive JM Barrie’s first play, which he thought was lost forever, so people can enjoy it again after all this time in the very place it was originally performed. Projects like this are exactly what the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust is all about, and show the enormous value of creating a national children’s literature and storytelling centre for Scotland.

“As a little boy it was Moat Brae House, and its lovely garden, where JM Barrie played and dreamed of Peter. We want to give thousands of children every year the same chance to be inspired, to make believe and also to discover the wonder of children’s literature.”

The appeal has already secured £4m of the £5.5m needed for success and hopes are high that the derelict Georgian townhouse and garden can be transformed and open in 2017.

PPMBT and SYT’s Bandelero project will last three years and will culminate in a full production of the play – which is a melodramatic tale following the adventures of an accused man. Its wider aim is to give today’s young Scots the confidence to pursue their own dreams of careers in the performing arts and wider creative sectors.

Fraser MacLeod, Associate Artistic Director of the Glasgow-based SYT, said: “Scottish Youth Theatre is delighted to be able to return the first play of someone as iconic as JM Barrie to the stage, after such an enormous amount of time. The play is fascinating because it contains the beginnings of so many ideas and approaches that Barrie went on to expand and develop as his career flourished. We want young people today to see Bandelero like this, as the start of a career, and perhaps to think that if JM Barrie could have done it then, they can do it now.”

The reading also forms part of a children’s literature symposium hosted by The Solway Centre.

Among those speaking at the symposium will be Ronnie Jack, Edinburgh University Professor Emeritus in English Literature at Edinburgh University. Prof. Jack came across the notebook containing Bandelero at theBeinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, in the USA, while researching the correspondence of JM Barrie has had it republished.

He said: “Barrie thought the play was lost so it’s wonderful that it has survived. It’s an important work in a number of ways, for example it shows how he loved to collect themes and ideas from everything he read and turn them into something of his own.

“It also shows his early fascination with special effects. This reached its ultimate expression in Tinker Bell, who was a character created entirely by special effects using sound and light.”

Bandelero quite unexpectedly brought Barrie to national attention.

Prof. Jack said: “A local clergyman took exception to the play and wrote to the local newspapers to condemn it for being immoral. The young Barrie realised this was a fantastic opportunity and made the very most of it. The next performance, which took place at the Crichton, was naturally full of people wanting to see what the fuss was about. News also reached people like Sir Henry Irving, in London, who were able to give support for their theatre club.”

The PPMBT appeal will see Moat Brae House restored with the addition of a café, shop and education/performance spaces. A Neverland-themed Discovery Garden is also being created which will celebrate the importance of play and adventure.

Creative planting and artistic installations will celebrate the heritage, characters and stories of childhood. JM Barrie’s ‘enchanted land’ will once again be a place to inspire imagination giving groups and individuals of all ages the freedom to explore, invent stories and discover as the young author did over a hundred years ago.

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