Writer: Harry Michaels
Director: Guy Unsworth
“You know something,” says Jason Manford as he slips out of character as Captain Hook and into a mini stand-up set, “laughing is good for you”. Given that’s the case, you’ll definitely feel better after seeing the Opera House’s seasonal offering. The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan goes all out playing for laughs – and it doesn’t hold back. “I don’t understand all the jokes, mummy,” says an eight-year-old in the row behind during the interval. “You’re not supposed to” mum replies.
The comedy comes courtesy of Jason Manford as Captain Hook and Ben Nickless as Smee. The two work brilliantly together delivering pure music hall comedy with Nickless as stooge. A popular Opera House panto regular, Nickless got wider attention this year as a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent with his comedy impressions, some of which he gets to squeeze in here. He’s a likeable old-school comedian, delivering the kind of jokes “you don’t get on CBeebies” with a naïve charm. But together, Manford and Nickless rather steal the show. They get lots of laughs from the grown-ups with a string of smutty puns while dressed as mermaids with talking…er…coconut bikini tops. Manford’s Elvis impersonation with Nickless royally messing up the backing vocals is flawless, pure Morecambe and Wise.
There’s barely a story here – Wendy is needed back in Neverland to help Peter get his power of flight back after Hook has somehow managed to ground him – but what there is moves along nicely with an ensemble cast. Unfortunately, Peter (Ross Carpenter) and Wendy (Jessica Croll) are both rather dull though, leaving Tink (Samara Casteallo) to carry much of the story. She’s an indomitable Tink (no ‘er bell’ for this feisty fairy) and also gets the best of the musical numbers, delivering them with a 21st-century Disney Princess swagger. The Acromaniacs as The Lost Boys add a touch of variety show to the proceedings with a fantastic tumbling scene (with Nickless demonstrating some decent physical comedy skills ‘getting in the way’). While this scene, built into the story as their ‘training’ to take on the pirates, is great entertainment, these four brilliant gymnasts really bring the wow factor to the dance sequences and fight scenes.
There’s a small but effective live orchestra underscoring much of the show and although the songs are pretty forgettable, the grand scale of their delivery, with sharp choreography by Gary Lloyd, gives the show pace and energy. It’s all played against a gloriously lavish and colourful set by Ian Westbrook with lighting design by Richard G Jones that gives everything in Neverland its other-worldly brightness. There are pyrotechnics and (of course) flying, and a fantastic special effect at the end of the first act that would be too much of a spoiler to give away here – let’s just say it has big teeth.
As all good pantos should be, The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan is gloriously costumed. Highlights from the many changes include the dancers sporting fabulous animal and bird costumes, and an impressive quick change for the curtain call which goes full glitzy cabaret. The night ends with a rendition of Manford’s 2022 charity single Assembly Bangers, a medley of old ‘modern hymn’ favourites from school assemblies, which is oddly out of place – especially with the cabaret costumes – but a lot of fun.
The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan feels like a great way to start the festive season. There’s something about seeing a panto in a historic theatre like the Opera House where it somehow ‘belongs’ and this production fits in perfectly, traditional in its extravagance as well as its naughtiness, full of contemporary references and topical jokes, but also generosity and love. Most of all though, The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan is totally ridiculous – in the best possible way.
Runs until 31st December 2022