The festive season always draws out new stagings of JM Barrie's classic never-ageing hero, with adaptations ranging from the downright spectacular to the innovatively devised. The Action to the Word production goes for something of a different tack, however, with a company of seven actor-musicians recreating the story of Peter Pan in the more intimate confines of the Pleasance Theatre, replete with rock-infused renditions of classic pop tracks.
There's a lot of magic in the low key, and largely faithful production. Capturing the essence and the jovial nature of Barrie's original play, The Lost Boy Peter Pan teases out the familial themes and, crucially, decides never to talk down to what is largely a young audience. One of the more interesting additions is the embellishment of James Hook's character, portraying him as a sad, lonely man simply in need of affection. Before the show's inevitable conclusion, we almost sympathise with him over Peter Pan.
The piece ends up as a perfectly serviceable pantomime alternative, the cast hopping in and out of roles, jumping from angry pirates to outspoken Lost Boys with ease. The anarchy is deftly overseen by director Alexandra Spencer-Jones, all under the fairy-light coated canopy courtesy of lighting designer Sarah Hazelgrove.
It helps that the ensemble are all a talented bunch – Toby Falla's Peter, when not leaping and bounding across the auditorium, delivers some impressive drum solos, while Thomas Parrish has some great physical transformations backed up by a belter of a voice. Every cast member can handle at least two instruments, carefully woven into their characterisation – Georgie Parker's flautist fairy Tinkerbell brings necessary mischief to proceedings.
The show's faults lie in its structure, and Spencer-Jones' vibrant first act gives way to a floundering second after a rather abrupt interval. Trimming the show, removing some unnecessary set pieces (Welsh mermaids, unfortunately, never feel like they push the story forwards), may give it that extra joie-de-vivre. The inclusion of Peter's origin story, while an interesting prologue, also seems ill-drawn and is rushed through, compared to some of the later plot beats.
The integration of music (ranging from fun., Harry Styles, or ELO, with a smattering of The Beatles) sometimes suits the plot, and the well-choreographed fight between Pan and Hook has all the right energy and punch courtesy of its electric-guitar backing track. On other occasions, particularly when energy is lower, it just feels that bit too anachronistic, almost like Glee-does-Finding Neverland.
But there's still a sense of enchantment here, as rough-and-ready as it appears. Introducing young spectators to ensemble theatre, showing them how to create a world within a black box space, is a tricky feat to pull off, and Action to the Word have crafted a wonderful experience for first time viewers.