Written and directed by David Lee, based on the original by J M Barrie
Peter Pan is not a pantomime and no amount of reworking will make it one. It's a sentimental (not a criticism, merely an observation) play for children, with lots of dialogue. Yes, you can add songs, as David Lee has here, and a comic, but there's no Dame - and no room for one. There's a baddy - and Captain Hook is as good a baddy as, for example, Abenazar - but no good fairy (or other supernatural). We do have Tinkerbell, of course, but she isn't the good fairy of traditional panto whose intervention saves the day. There is an element of magic - the flying is always impressive when done properly (as it is here) - but these don't add up to pantomime.
This production at the Gala has an impressive Hook (doubling Mr Darling, as is usual) in Robert Pheby, but in spite of his magnificent voice and obvious ability as an actor, he is not the panto baddy because he remains within the play: although he does talk to the audience, he doesn't really connect with the children and make them hate him. He doesn't get down to their level.
Pee Wee Price as Smee, however, does. His repertoire of funny faces and noises, his physicality and, in particular, his ability to make the children feel he is talking to each and every one of them, make him a great panto comic. He had the kids screaming their heads off and loving every minute of it - and him. But then he'd go off, the panto feel is lost and we're back in the play. The excellent Paul Hartley as Cut-Throat Jake is not given enough chance to show his comedic abilities (and we know by his previous appearances in Gala pantos just how well he can do), although he makes the best of what chances he is given.
Lucinda Cowden has not only mastered the art of flying but quite clearly enjoys it and she has all the bravado and vulnerability of Peter Pan. Hers was a very appealing performance.
Victoria Jones makes a very motherly Wendy, capturing the character's innocence and sweetness, and, as her brothers Michael and John respectively, Theo Close and Connor Hall are very good with a confiddence which belies their young years..
Indeed it is impossible to fault anyone in the cast: the Rita Proctor Dancers, Gemma Meason as Mrs Darling/Tiger Lily, Emma Bennett in the thankless role of Lisa the maid, the Lost Boys and and the Joanne Banks Dancers all perform well.
The other aspects of the production are good, too: excellent sets which are well lit, good costumes, a very clever portrayal of Tinkerbell using special effects and video projection. And yet...
That special panto feel just isn't there. Pee Wee Price works his socks off to get us there and draw in the kids, but then they're back to being spectators again. Even the panto catchphrases, the "Oh no he isn't"s and the "He's behind you"s, are treated quite perfunctorily, more a nod in the direction of panto than an integral part of the show.
Peter Pan is simply not a panto: this production - along with any other which tries to make it into one (and I have seen quite a few) - simply succeeds in being something of a hybrid, in which we swap back and forth between the (controlled - if that's not an oxymoron) anarchy of panto and the constraints of a play.
But the audience (mainly of primary school parties at the performance I attended) enjoyed it and that's what counts.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan