Peter Pan is a tale that comes with strong associations of Christmas. It’s right up there on the (very) short list of all-time classic panto staples. You can bet there’ll be a big, glitzy version of it in a theatre near you right now.
Strictly speaking, Underneath a Magical Moon at Sale Waterside is a variation on that theme, but to put it like that is to sell it short. It’s a delightful piece all in its own right.
Yes, on the face of it, this is Peter Pan from Wendy’s perspective, just about. It’s more than that, though. Directed by Wendy Harris for tutti frutti in association with York Theatre Royal, it shakes off a lot of the cobwebs from the story and sheds all those trappings about posh children from Edwardian London. Here, siblings Wendy, Michael and John are sleeping out one night in their unprepossessing back yard in an unremarkable contemporary town, and any child watching could identify with them. The boys implore Wendy to tell them a story, one of their favourites – the one about lost boys, crocodiles, fairies and fearsome pirates. Together they play-act it out, until the day is won and they fall asleep.
This is far from being a concoction of warmed-over bits of JM Barrie, though. The Peter Pan element is really just a springboard for a dinky little hymn to the wonder of storytelling and imagination. The result is a sparkly kaleidoscope of expertly-choreographed movement, joyous action routines and absolutely corking songs. What’s all the more impressive is that this is achieved with a cast of just three, each one of whom – Grace Lancaster, Jack Brett and Chris Draper – gives it their all and deserves a tip of the (green felt) hat. They gel beautifully, and consequently the whole thing is brimming with fun. It might be small in scale but it’s perfectly formed, taking resourcefulness to the level of an art-form. For instance, Tinkerbell is little more than a murmuring green light, but you’d be amazed at how effectively that’s used.
Playwright Mike Kenny is a leading light in UK children’s theatre and his script here demonstrates his mastery of the form. In among the thrills and spills, there are fleeting moments of reflection, particular from a Wendy teetering uncertainly on the brink of growing up. They’re tenderly done, so won’t trouble those too young to fathom them out, but older children will have something to mull over. At around an hour, the whole piece is very short, and audiences of all ages are guaranteed not to be bored for a moment. Captain Hook and the ticking crocodile are present and correct, but they’re well judged and there’s nothing too alarming for very tiny ones.
Over the years, Sale Waterside has developing a great track record in presenting striking, impressive family theatre shows, and it’s to be congratulated on another success here. In a season that’s awash with big-scale children’s stage entertainment, this keeps it gentle, thoughtful and intimate, and excels by doing so.
Underneath a Magical Moon is at Sale Waterside until December 31, 2016. For more details, click here.