Caro Meets Children's Show Interview Theatre Interview

Alexandra Spencer-Jones: The Lost Boy Peter Pan

By | Published on Thursday 23 November 2017

I’m sure you’ll have come across the work of producing company Action To The Word before, with a CV that includes successful and acclaimed productions such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Constance and Sinestra’.

Their latest show is a family one, perfect for a Christmas outing, set to run throughout December and beyond. To find out more about it, I spoke to the creative force behind ‘The Lost Boy Peter Pan’, and indeed, the company, Artistic Director Alexandra Spencer-Jones.

CM: Let’s start with the content and the story of the show. Pretty much everyone knows the story of ‘Peter Pan’, but does your version look at it from a different angle?
AS-J: Our story starts at the beginning of J.M. Barrie’s story (the first of the Peter Pan books) which puts an entirely different spin on things. Before Wendy and The Nursery there was Peter the baby who escaped the trappings of growing up by flying out of his window as a baby to Kensington Park, where he is trapped for many years unable to fly home. We incorporate this material into the show as well explaining why Peter is so reluctant to encourage other children to never grow up.

CM: What themes does your adaptation focus on?
AS-J: How hard that day is when you realise that your parents are human and how challenging it is to grow up. It shows how the eternally young and confident quest for love, affection and care and deals with the complex relationships between parents and their children.

CM: What made you want to create a new adaptation?
AS-J: I turned 30 and realised that growing up is petrifying when it isn’t laid out obviously for you. I live in a land of fantasy, art and chaos and the gorgeous things tying some of my best friends down mystify me. I turned to J.M. Barrie for answers and he gave me some – don’t grow up, it’s a trap. ‘Peter Pan’ is the greatest fairy story of all time and has been much-loved through the ages. I wanted to mingle my company Action To The Word’s love of anarchy and our use of actor-musicianship to find an interesting new way of telling the story.

CM: What creative process did you go through in creating it?
AS-J: Last year we did a workshop of this piece using a slightly different set of songs. The process of an actor-musician show is absolutely thrilling as one turns to music all the time. I’ve been lucky in both the workshop and this cast to be surrounded by an amazing and multi-skilled group of performers who can turn their hand to any instrument. In both processes, I have worked with my original text but twisted music in and out of it and this is truly what I enjoy most about making theatre.

CM: It sounds as though the music is an important element – would you regard it as a musical…? What sort of music can we expect?
AS-J: I believe that characters start to sing when they can’t speak any more and in ‘The Lost Boy Peter Pan’ that only happens once (with Peter) – the rest of the songs act as sort of gig-theatre inspired to support the story. Sourced from a very eclectic selection of popular music we’re working with the songs of the Scissor Sisters, Beach Boys, Harry Styles, Lenny Kravitz, Take That and many many more. There is something in there for everyone.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your fellow creatives on the project?
AS-J: The company are all musicians, song writers, soloists and actors in their own right – most of whom are playing multiple instruments. Wesley Lineham (Our Captain Hook) has worked with Action To The Word before, playing Demetrius in our ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, which played at the NT Riverside and Latitude Festival last year. Hannah West (Our Wendy) was also in that ensemble, as well as having acted as assistant director of my production of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ at The Park Theatre this year. Toby Falla, our amazing new Peter, recently played Leantio in our production of ‘Women Beware Women’ at CPT, having created the role in Liverpool. He’s just released his amazing EP ‘Watch This Space’.

CM: What led you to a career in directing? Was it something you always wanted to do?
AS-J: I’ve been directing theatre since I was very little, using it as a bribing strategy to stop any bullying! I acted when I was growing up and at University I made the twist, realising that when I was acting I was always thinking about the bigger picture rather than just my own performance. I’d studied dance and music growing up but took an academic route studying English and Drama at The University of Cambridge. During my time there I directed all over Europe and landed work at The Edinburgh Festival which provided a great start to my journey.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your company Action To The Word? How did it come into being?
AS-J: I’d been lucky as a student to be surrounded by phenomenal talent and facilities and moving to London at twenty-one was a baptism of fire. I took an unpaid assistant director internship, which was more like an administrative work-experience and quickly I got tired of not directing Shakespeare. I decided that alongside the ‘survival jobs’ and internships I would make my own work, whether or not there were the facilities or wherewithal to do it. I got a musician who I’d worked with before and a group of amazing actors and we made our first show – ‘Shakespeare Shorts or What’s In A Name?’.

CM: What aims does the company have?
AS-J: I had aimed to grow a show from nothing and get it to the USA and this year we finally did that. My show ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was created for Proud Gallery Camden in 2009. The company had no financial support and the show had a pathetic budget. It was rehearsed in the squat I was living in at the time. After a lot of hard work from a lot of brilliant lads and myself, we got the show to The Edinburgh Festival where it was picked up by Glynis Henderson Productions who co-produced the show with us from then until now, taking it all over the world via Soho Theatre and The Park Theatre. Earlier this year they collaborated with Martian Entertainment in New York and we opened the show at The New World Stages Off-Broadway in September.

Action To The Word explores classics for the real world, mingling physical theatre and actor-musicianship as we go. We believe in the power of the rep company and are a family.

CM: What’s coming up next?
AS-J: Next we’re developing our new production of Macbeth.

‘The Lost Boy Peter Pan’ is on at Pleasance Theatre from 29 Nov-7 Jan. See the venue website here for more information and to book.

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