Sixty years after his death, J M Barrie is becoming ever more interesting to theatre people. Earlier this year, the TAG theatre company and Stuart Paterson devised their dark version of Peter Pan; now Jonathan Rhodes and Mitch Jenkins have written a musical biography for their Realistic Theatre Company of Edinburgh, called Barrie, being shown at the Fringe.
It continues the trend started by Jonathan Miller's televised expedition into Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, where the whole post-Freudian apparatus was brought to bear on the children's literature of a more innocent age. In Barrie's case, only just; Peter Pan was first performed a mere four years after Freud published his studies of Hamlet and Oedipus. Now, when paedophilia has made its way into the headlines, the Realistic investigates Barrie's unimpeachable obsession with the four Llewellyn-Davies boys.
The production asks whether it was the drowning of Barrie's teenage brother that was the real origin of "the boy who never grew up'', or Barrie himself. We see Llewellyn-Davies senior furious, not knowing whether to be more annoyed by the hours Barrie spends alone with his wife, or the time the writer spends alone with his four sons. His peremptory advice to Barrie, to spend more time with his own wife and set about getting his own family, could but fall on deaf ears. Barrie's divorce, on the grounds of his wife's adultery, would nowadays provide sport for the divorce lawyers and the tabloids.
Among the programme credits are special thanks to the schools that "have graciously allowed their pupils to be part of this company'', and clearly young people are important to RTCE. A chorus of almost 30 launch the musical with a playground scene in the preparatory school where the young Barrie shows his story-telling skills. From then on, to the ceaseless flow of music, the cast carry the story forward in song and dialogue. The cast were well rehearsed and confident, but the opening performance was seriously flawed by an imbalance of sound between the band, directed by the talented 19-year-old Alison Duguid, and the singers.
All too often the sense of the words was lost among the amplification, and the continuous soundtrack inflicted heavy casualties.
Youth music theatres that depend on young and partly formed voices singing against an orchestra in large auditoriums such as Southside, even with radio mikes, have a duty to the vocal health of their players. Over in the Assembly Rooms, the National Youth Music Theatre with its premi re of Aurelius once again staked out the high water mark for this art form in Britain. To support the young voices, this year they brought only strings and keyboard, but even the keyboard played piano.
Until August 30 (except 25)