Jamie Alexander Wilson
Those Magic Beans
The Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks
A panto staple since the 1990s, Peter Pan is now the sixth most produced pantomime title with 2015's season seeing 20 different productions presented. 111 years on since J M Barrie's original stage play, writers have come up with a diverse range of ways to translate the play into a pantomime.
One of the major questions productions must contend with is how to include a Dame. Indeed, some productions dispense with the role completely, whilst others merge her with the Comic to create Mrs Smee, the Jolly Roger's cook. In Jamie Alexander Wilson's production, the Dame begins life as Nanny to the Darling children and then manifests in Neverland as Peter's ally the Magical Mermaid.
Peter Brad-Leigh's gurning and grimacing Dame does her best with the material, but is often left isolated bereft of a sparring partner. With no-one to work with or off, the important partnership between Dame and Comic is broken leaving the Magical Mermaid and Jamie Foreman's lovable Smee to fend for themselves.
It is only towards the end of the production in the final fight between Pan and Hook that the two share the stage and the pairing's true comedy potential is revealed. With the split of Comic and Dame leaving the production low on the gag-count, the laughs come from Smee's "Who's on first?" Abbott and Costello inspired pirate roll call and a highly inventive water-pistol-fountain routine last seen in the company's touring Pirates of Treasure Island.
What the show lacks in comic capers, however, it makes up for in costume with James Maciver's creations giving the production a Vegas showgirl feel, none more so than in the act one climax where Tinkerbell is brought back to life courtesy of a Dreamgirls musical mash-up. Sequins sparkle as Tiger Lily, Tinkerbell and the Magical Mermaid sing of their love for Peter and in a feat of spectacle he soars across the audience with some nifty flying.
In the title role, Jamie Papanicolaou is a perfect Pan and treads the fine line between the character's self-centred nature, boastfulness and childhood excitement. His energetic performance matches his stunning vocals, with an impressive range that harmonises nicely with Billie Hardy's pitch-perfect Wendy.
Much of the Pan narrative is crammed into the first act, leaving act two slightly short as the Darlings and Lost Boys await rescue from Hook's ship and plan the battle to end his reign. Although slightly skewing the dramatic structure of the narrative, it does ensure act one ends with a transformation in the form of Tinkerbell's re-awakening whilst affording act two a quest as the trio of Tinkerbell, Tiger Lilly and Magical Mermaid à la Charlie's Angels head for the Jolly Roger with Peter in charge.
A number of questionable accents sit uncomfortably with a 21st century audience and, although a product of its era, this Peter Pan is not the play, but the pantomime, and must move with the times. There is good reason for many contemporary productions of Annie Get Your Gun omitting "I'm an Indian too" and its use as underscoring for Tiger Lily and the Indian Camp only goes to further highlight an uneasy rendering of the character.
The Stag's first Peter Pan has plenty of dazzle, but with a bit more comedy and cultural awareness could really fly.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen