“Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were — Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter.”
Once upon a time, 150 years ago, the woman who wrote those words was born.
Beatrix Potter gave us Peter Rabbit and his siblings, as well as Benjamin Bunny, Squirrel Nutkin and more.
Now in honor of her 150th birthday, Enchantment Theatre Company is bringing her stories to the stage in “Peter Rabbit Tales,” which will be at the Paramount Theatre on April 3. It’s the only production that has the blessing of the Beatrix Potter estate.
Enchantment Theatre spent two years working on this production, including a trip to London to work with the licensing department of Penguin Books. Enchantment’s production designer also visited Potter’s archives in the Victoria & Albert Museum and her digital archives to create the scenery as well as the costumes and masks.
Enchantment, which is based in Philadelphia, specializes in family theater that focuses on movement rather than on words. A narrator provides the explanation while the actors on stage pantomime Peter and Co.’s adventures. The narrator is almost like the voice in your head that reads the storybook, while the actors are the pictures on the page that come to life.
At the beginning of the play, you see all the actors ensemble, bringing their costumes and all of the props for the show. They are surprised to see the audience, which the audiences loves. They help each other into their costumes, which are clothing and masks that only cover part of their faces. When they turn around, their whole body goes into character.
As any parent who has ever taken a child to Disneyland knows, larger than life animals can be scary, but “Peter Rabbit Tales” takes away that fear by having kids see the transition from human to animal. “It’s not a scary thing,” says Landis Smith, the artistic director for Enchantment. “It’s a magical kind of thing.”
Beatrix Potter’s stories are not without their scary moments. After all, death is always a possibility at the hand of Mr. McGregor, his cat or Mr. Todd, the badger.
“These stories are not warm and squishy,” Smith says. “They have nature in theme.”
In this production, the narrator tells us that Mr. Todd likes to eat frogs and worms and sometimes baby rabbit pie. Mr. Bouncer, Benjamin Bunny’s father, has been babysitting his grandchildren, but he falls asleep and Mr. Todd kidnaps them. The rest of the play is spent trying to rescue the baby bunnies.
Through flashbacks, the tales of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny get told because Benjamin calls on his cousin Peter to help him. It provides lessons in courage and forgiveness. And while a bit dark, the whole thing ends in a comical chase between a badger and a fox.
“I love being able to bring these classic stories that people know and love and bringing them to life in new ways,” says Jennifer Luck, the director of education and outreach at the Paramount Theatre.
This won’t be the only story from Beatrix Potter you might hear about this year. In September, a long lost manuscript of hers is being published by Penguin. “The Tale of Kitty in Boots,” starts with “Once upon a time there was a kind old lady who had a serious well-behaved young black cat.”
“Peter Rabbit Tales”
When: 2 p.m. April 3
Where: Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave.
Paramount Theatre at BookPeople
Paramount Theatre reads from Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” during story time. 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Book People, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.