THE actor, singer and dancer who will play the title role in All New Adventures Of Peter Pan at York Theatre Royal comes with “flight experience”, as this winter’s pantomime producer somewhat mysteriously puts it.
Jason Battersby will be taking one giant leap in his pantomime debut, but he is no stranger to the character of Peter, having appeared as the Lead Shadow last Christmas in Wendy And Peter at Leeds Playhouse, where he flew through the air as he shadowed the ever-boyish Peter.
Precisely what flights of imagination Jason will experience in the Paul Hendy-scripted Theatre Royal pantomime have yet to be revealed but definitely he will take to the air again.
Flying lessons for the Playhouse show will come in handy this winter too, although wondering if the pantomime will be working with single-line or double-line flying. Whichever system is used in York , the key to flying is the harness he must wear.
“It can be restricting,” he says. “When you rehearse you have all these ideas of what you want to do but then you put the harness on and realise you can’t do them. It can be painful too if you don’t quite put it on the right way.”
Before last winter’s appearance, Jason had neither read J M Barrie’s book nor watched the Disney film. He researched Peter and his creator Barrie for the Leeds show, in particular exploring the parallels between the character and the Scottish writer’s own life.
The Shadows were used at Leeds to represent the many facets of Peter’s complex personality: cocky, childish, curious, naïve, as Jason described the boy who never grew up. Now he is excited to be playing this fly-by-night in York.
“Pantomime is perfect for telling Peter’s story because he never stops playing,” he says. “It’s going to be wonderful to bring that to family audiences and have fun with it.”
As with Peter, there are many sides to Jason: actor, dancer, singer, songwriter and music producer, all by the age of 22. Such is the variety of his work so far that he has chalked up childhood roles in Macbeth, The Nutcracker and Waiting For Godot with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, plus numerous productions for Youth Music Theatre UK and National Youth Music Theatre, most notably performing Whistle Down The Wind in the presence of Prince Edward.
This summer has been spent starring in the musical Crazy For You at Chichester Festival Theatre. While York Theatre Royal will mark his pantomime debut, he did appear in Santa Claus The Musical, a show with pantomime elements, when he was seven, having started ballet classes some years before.
Two years later, he was training with the Royal Ballet School and when he turned 11 he faced a difficult choice. “You have to decide at quite an early age if you want to be a ballet dancer and continue with that training,” he says. “I thought ‘yes, it’s something I enjoy’ but I’d never really wanted to focus on one specific aspect of performance.”
Ballet was duly left behind in favour of acting and musical theatre, as well as pursuing his interest in making his own music. “At school, I had a bunch of friends who did music, and I was one of the boys in my school who could sing. Then I found I appreciated watching them write music and dove into that myself,” Jason says.
“I’ve always found writing your own songs very therapeutic. I feel as if I write them for myself and if other people listen that’s fine. Music for me is quite grounding. Communication for me has always been a little bit difficult and there’s something about writing lyrics I really like. Pop songs get right down to the root of what you say. I really enjoy being producing music where I am the creative force behind it, with no outside influence.”
When it comes to ambitions, Jason recalls as a young performer often being asked that same question: “What’s your dream role?”. He had a “really stupid” answer he used to fall back on: “It’s anything I get paid for,” he would say.
Now he takes the question more seriously. “In this industry, it’s great to have ambitions and dreams but it’s far more important to be realistic and know that as actors we’re not constantly working,” he says.
Come November, he will be joined in the panto rehearsals by creative director Juliet Forster’s already confirmed cast members for the third collaboration between York Theatre Royal and Evolution Productions: CBeebies’ Mandie Moate in her first pantomime as feisty fairy Tinkerbell; social media sensation Jonny Weldon as Starkey; Faye Campbell as Elizabeth Darling and fellow returnees Paul Hawkyard as Captain Hook and Robin Simpson as Mrs Darling after last winter’s Ugly Sisters double act, Mardy and Manky.
All New Adventure Of Peter Pan will run at York Theatre Royal from December 2 to January 2. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.