Writer: Paul Hendy
Director: Juliet Forster
What do you do when last year’s pantomime was greeted by five star reviews (full disclosure: four and a half on this site) and was nominated as Best Panto in the UK Pantomime Awards? Well, engage the same company to work with and bring back the same two funny men, of course. Then, when you’ve confirmed Evolution Productions will come up with a script by Paul Hendy and booked in Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard, what next?
How about latching onto the story of Peter Pan with the cast flying hither and yon and a lovely floppy dog, then adding to the magic with a good old-fashioned speciality act, the Black Diamonds, who offer everything from tumbling to amazing balancing acts to limbo dancing under a fiery pole?
And yet somehow it’s only very good, with some remarkable set pieces, but also some pretty routine chunks of dialogue, over-amplified and deafeningly enthusiastic.
This is All New Adventures of Peter Pan and the main twist is that we’re on the next generation. Wendy and her husband, Mr Sweet, are preparing for a party with the assistance of Starkey the butler and Mrs Smee the nurse – lots of self-referential gags about the York Theatre Royal pantomime – 750 people at a party! The daughter of the house, Elizabeth, longs to go to Neverland and (what do you know?) Peter and Tinkerbell fly in and take her off, the actors playing the Sweets convert to Captain Hook and Myrtle the mermaid – and we’re off!
Faye Campbell’s feisty Elizabeth sums up the problems with Juliet Forster’s production: endlessly smiling, she invests the part with every bit of energy she can muster, sings and dances splendidly, but her volume is unrelenting. Much the same can be said for Francesca Benton-Stace as Myrtle – her Wendy is more understated. Maddie Moate brings plenty of charm to Tinkerbell and Jason Battersby is a clean-cut hero as Peter, flying, dancing and singing very well, not particularly engaging the audience.
Paul Hawkyard begins as a rather one-note Captain Hook, but gradually relaxes into the loose-limbed patter of pantomime, particularly when things go wrong, and Robin Simpson (Mrs Smee) has a super scene as James Bond and various other winks and nods and dreadful puns, but has limited opportunities to really engage the audience, except for Mr Aldridge, teacher at a school in Nottingham and a heroic “victim”. That leaves Jonny Weldon who never misses a trick as Starkey, skating through the whole thing with aplomb, a nifty mover, cracking gags as he goes and establishing that crucial rapport with the audience.
A sextet of young professionals ring the changes from pirates to Lost Boys (and Girls) with confidence, the sets and costumes are in the stylish hands of people too numerous to mention and Benjamin Dovey keeps everything on track musically, so what is there not to like?
When you’re hit by the tremendous first act curtain – an extended song and dance routine to Creedence Clearwater Revival – or the opening to Act 2, the Black Diamonds the high spot of another dazzling routine, you have to submit and say, “Nothing”.
Runs until 2nd January 2022.