Peter Pan: A New Adventure
From 18 November 2016 to 08 January 2017
Review by Simon Sladen
A pantomime title for almost 25 years, Peter Pan's annual festive flight still draws criticism from Pantoland's more conservative quarters. When the boy who never grows first appeared in 1902, little did he know he would play a part in one of Greenwich Theatre's best pantomimes to date; a production that not only explores and celebrates the genre's evolution, but also that of the last century's culture and politics.
One of the country's greatest pantomime practitioners, Andrew Pollard embraces the spirit of Victorian pantomime in his new adventure for Pan, Hook and Wendy. Set in the present day, Wendy's great, great, granddaughter, also called Wendy, makes a living dockside packing frozen fish and dreams of a better life. When her grandmother's magical bell necklace starts to ring, it falls on Wendy to recruit her colleagues, commandeer a passing clipper and return to Neverland for all is not well...
Rather than the usual traipse around the island in a somewhat episodic narrative, Pollard's Pan sees Wendy as the Principal Girl driving the plot as she aids Peter in his quest to defeat Captain Hook, who, due to an incident with a speeding crocodile, polar ice cap and bumbling Smee, became encrusted in the very same ice Wendy uses to pack fish.
Now fully thawed, Hook is ready for revenge, but Pollard's new adventure cleverly adds a quest narrative sub-plot that sees Hook kidnap Wendy and hypnotise her crew in the search for Imagination.
It is widely acknowledged that creative subjects such as music, art and drama are under threat and, in amongst references to Teresa May, Donald Trump and Brexit, Greenwich's Peter Pan reminds us of the importance of the arts. After its quasi-extinction, it is Peter who locks away Imagination to protect it. It is Hook who seeks it to control what people think and do. Pantomime has always been political.
Whilst many of the aforementioned traditionalists bemoan the loss of the female Principal Boy, Greenwich's Peter Pan demonstrates that her roots are still present in an ever-evolving genre that needs to keep in touch with its audience in order to stay alive. Louise Young's assertive Wendy, dressed in pirate attire with boots and tunic à la the Principal Boys of yore, acts as a positive role model and much welcome change from her insipid nightgown wearing counterpart.
Teamed with Rory Maguire's energetic and youthful Pan, the two continue the lineage of Greenwich Principal Boys and Girls with excellent vocals and strong personalities alongside Sackie Osakonor's lovable Smee and Krystal Dockery's farm-owning, utility belt wearing, 21st century Tinkerbell.
Pollard's Long Joan Silver is a lesson in the art of Daming with the high-tea-lady-come-high-sea-adventurer able to summon laughs with a well-timed glance or ad-lib. When called upon to interpret the High Priestess's language, Pollard and James-Paul McAllister as the Priestess engage in vocal gymnastics as they exchange information through a series of playful and absurd guttural-cum-nasal utterances and outbursts. The surprise at one another's vocal dexterity causes as much delight on stage as in the stalls and reminds us of the joy, not only of pantomime performance, but also of the shared community it creates.
Anthony Spargo's Mick Jagger-esque Hook makes him a conniving yet comical Captain with "Walk this Way" bringing the house down as he struts across the stage courtesy of Steve Markwick's orchestrations.
As ever, Greenwich's musical numbers add great vitality to the production, none more so than act one's musical mash-up complete with McAllister's Ethel Merman leading proceedings with sea-puns a plenty in the form of "Shake Your Groove Fin" and a flying Dame Joan to the tune of "Like a Sturgeon".
Flying is used to great effect in the production with Cleo Pettit's rotating set effortlessly transporting Wendy and her crew from the black and white fish packing docks of London to the kaleidoscopic cornucopia of Neverland and the Island of Wanapipi. The Mermaid Lagoon is enriched by the use of UV, but a quasi blacklight-cum-bunraku fight sequence between Pan and Hook in which the two engage Matrix-style in slow-motion appears somewhat clumsy given the otherwise slick production enhanced greatly by lighting designer Fridthjofur Thorstinsson.
A new adventure for the modern age, Greenwich Theatre's Peter Pan proves Pan can be pantomised and encourages other venues to look again at a title they too may have dismissed in the past.