Little Wolf Entertainment
First flying into the Pantosphere during the 1990s, Peter Pan is now one of the most popular pantomime titles. 115 years on since Barrie’s original tale first took to the stage, Little Wolf Entertainment embraces the boy who never grew up for the company’s first take on the story at the Derby Arena.
For traditionalists, Peter Pan simply isn’t a pantomime. Its episodic structure and lack of romance flummox many a writer, but in the hands of Morgan Brind, the well-known narrative is given a panto makeover worthy of any Cinderella or Aladdin.
In this version, it’s out with Tiger Lily and man overboard for Mr Smee, for they are nowhere to be found. Even the crocodile makes but a fleeting appearance, depriving Hook of his foreboding fear and true cowardice. In their place, Brind introduces a host of new characters to join the swashbuckling adventure, starting with feathered friend Quick Draw Macaw.
The last few years have seen a growing trend for animal Comics and in Derby’s production Quick Draw Macaw fulfills the role of Mr Smee. As Hook’s kindly parrot, Richard Brindley is a lovable Comic whose warm persona charms the audience and has them tickled at his squarkish antics. Attired in a beak tricorn hat and feathered tailcoat, not forgetting the miniature pirate resting upon his shoulder, Macaw first follows Pan to London on a spy mission for Hook, but soon forms an allegiance with the Darlings' Auntie Hilda, who comes to babysit whilst their parents are away for the night.
In the role of Hilda, Brind has surely earned his place in the Great Hall of Dame. Not only an exquisite Dame and scriptwriter, he is also a master set and costume designer which manifests itself in his wonderful array of gowns, from campfire complete with marshmallows and kebabs to pink plus fours saddled upon a seahorse.
A strong vein of comedy runs throughout the production with a cannon-cleaning slosh scene garnering great laughs that could really ignite if afforded a stronger payoff. An exquisite wordsmith, Brind peppers puns throughout the script, a highlight of which is 32 consecutive cleaning products in a pun run about ocean plastics culminating in literally the biggest finish ever seen.
Neverland’s waters are a key feature in this new adaptation, with an aquatic UV sequence opening act two and Abigail Finley’s ditsy mermaid having some of the show’s best material as Marilyn pops up to provide a comedy sparring partner for double-act Macaw and Hilda.
Yet in amongst all the laughs, this Peter Pan also has a lot of heart: a reunion forms part of the show’s triumphant conclusion and Tinker Bell’s poisoning is given new depth thanks to inspiration drawn from Romeo and Juliet.
In the role of Tinker Bell, Katrina Bryan balances the fairy’s playful and spiteful side well with her flight over the audience complete with sprinkling of fairy dust, a moment of pure magic much helped by Mark Dymock’s lighting design, which sees flickerings and flutterings of light in anticipation of her appearance across the show’s nautical proscenium.
Whilst Thomas Grant’s Pan doesn’t quite capture the arrogance and charisma required in the role, he and Rebecca Brierley’s Wendy prove their vocal prowess in a show laden with musical numbers which would benefit greatly from a little trimming. Some stalled flying and extended scene changes don’t help with the pace which fizzes during the show’s comedy but peters out elsewhere during times of key narrative.
Bill Ward’s Hook might be devilishly evil, but he never quite manages to muster enough hatred in the audience to elicit boos throughout. Extending his opening spot to establish the convention coupled with some audience insults would secure him safely as a pantomime Villain, rather than an agent of plot. His scenes with Roddy Peter’s madcap Mr Starkey work extremely well, but it is odd that he doesn’t seem too bothered about Macaw’s mutiny.
A show that firmly puts the panto into Peter Pan-to, with a trim here and there, it would really take flight.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen