Writer: JM Barrie
Adaptor: Eric Potts
Director: Ian Talbot
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
For children and others who have never grown up, the great news is that it’s panto time again. Spectacle, silliness, songs and star names are all on display here and, rest assured, the dark themes of JM Barrie’s 1904 play Peter Pan have already walked the plank long before the curtain goes up.
Surprisingly, Barrie still gets the chief writing credit, even though adaptor Eric Potts has made this version almost unrecognisable from the original. Chief casualty is a coherent storyline, Potts seeming to assume, probably correctly, that we all know the story anyway and deciding that re-telling it would be pointless. What is left is familiar characters and situations, with additions to accommodate star names, strung together loosely under Ian Talbot’s direction to provide a fast flowing feast of fun.
British pantomime is an entertainment form that owes its longevity as much to its ability to change with the times as to its deep-rooted traditions and it makes little sense to argue that any elements are sacrosanct. Nonetheless, the absence of a dame comes as a bodyblow and it is to be hoped that this character is not becoming another victim of political correctness.
Principal boys (meaning girls) are long gone, but the title character in this story, the boy who never grows up, was usually played by a female in the not too distant past. Here a very animated George Ure takes the rôle, sounding as if he has flown in from a Scottish Neverland and looking, dare it be said, just a little grown up.
Marcus Brigstocke, as a smarmy Captain Hook, submerges his own stand-up comedy persona in the character. He is joined by new shipmate Lofty, played by diminutive Hollywood actor Verne Troyer (“Mini-Me” in the Austin Power films), aboard the pirate ship, crewed by street dance group Flawless. Leading dance routines and lip syncing to a Beyoncé track, Troyer proves to be worth many times his weight in comic gold.
While Hook and Lofty rule over the ship, it is the very merry Jarred Christmas as the put upon Smee, a New Zealander “with a bad Australian accent”, who takes command of the show. He builds and maintains the vital bridge between stage and audience, particularly with a riotous singalong 12 Days of Christmas.
Francesca Mills is a Tinker Bell so malevolent that many kids in the audience must wish that someone would cut her wires while she is floating over the crocodile. Victoria Fitz- Gerald is a warm Wendy, Sharon Ballard belts out soul classics and Flawless live up to their name with several eye-popping routines.
The show is awash with garish colours and giant mushrooms, giving a psychedelic feel that, to older audiences, could suggest the wrong sort of trip to Neverland. Nothing really stands up to close inspection, but who cares? It’s the time of year to just sit back and enjoy.
Runs until 10 January 2016 | Image:Craig Sugden