Writer: Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh, from the book by J.M Barrie
Director: Michael Harrison
Reviewer: James Garrington
It’s panto time in Birmingham and flying in this year is Peter Pan – and it’s the best panto the Hippodrome has seen in many years. We know the costumes and the sets will be spectacular, that it will have stunning effects and that there will be a good cast before we even arrive at the theatre – but this time they’ve really nailed it.
Peter Pan isn’t an obvious candidate for a panto, but that doesn’t stop it being a popular choice. The book itself has been seriously tweaked in the adaptation, though the vast majority of the characters are here with some extra thrown in for good measure, resulting in a Peter Pan panto which is more a piece in its own right rather than an adaptation of the original work – and a joyous thing it is too.
Matt Slack brings his usual dose of hilarity to the stage as Smee. Slack is an absolute master of his craft, here at the Hippodrome for the sixth consecutive year (and such is his draw for an audience, already signed up for next year’s panto too). He has become almost a fixture in Hippodrome pantomimes and the audience loves him, his brand of comedy and his slapstick – and he has an ease in his performance that conceals just how incredibly hard he is working to make all this happen. He also manages to appeal to all ages in the audience, with some quite adult humour but without creating anything that could cause offence.
Alongside Slack, there’s a host of other top performers. Jaymi Hensley appears as Peter – originally known as a member of boy band Union J, Hensley clearly also has a gift for theatre and his performance here is spot on, both in terms of his acting and his vocals. Making her panto debut is Meera Syal as the Magical Mermaid and from what we can see it won’t be her last. She’s clearly enjoying the experience immensely, matching Slack with the ad-libs and asides. Already known as an actress, writer and comedian, Syal has found another string to her bow and she’s very good at it too. Cassie Compton (Wendy) feels a little underused but is in great voice when she gets the chance to sing, and Kellie Gnauck is a suitably feisty Tinker Bell, joining Imogen Brooke’s Tiger Lily to create a touch of girl power at the end of proceedings.
It takes something special to match Matt Slack’s skills on a panto stage, but here we have it – and the surprise and absolute treat of the evening is Jimmy Osmond as Captain Hook. If you haven’t seen Osmond in panto before, take the chance now. He has a great voice, and a stage presence to match. Captain Hook is more of a character than the traditional ‘panto baddie’ and Osmond revels in every moment with bags of charisma and good comedy skills. We also get treated to a chunk of the Osmonds’ back catalogue too, which provides a touch of nostalgia for those in the audience of a certain age.
With added variety provided by Sascha Williams & Stephanie Nock, who found fame on Britain’s Got Talent, and acrobatic team The Timbuktu Tumblers, this is a panto that has something for everyone.
Runs Until 27 January 2019 | Image: Contributed