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Peter Pan

JM Barrie, adapted by Eric Potts
First Family Entertainment
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
(2011)

Andy Collins & Steve McFadden - Peter Pan NVT Woking Credit Grahame Larter

Last year, First Family Entertainment launched their all new Peter Pan with David Hasselhoff in Wimbledon. This year, Hoff the Hook appears in Bristol, but the company has decided to roll out the realigned narrative across their portfolio and so a similar production can also be found in Woking.

Returning to the New Victoria Theatre having made his pantomime debut here in 2003, Steve McFadden doesn’t mind sending himself or his career up as a gravelly voiced Hook. Best known as Phil Mitchell, there are far too many EastEnders references throughout the show and funny as a phone call from Barbara Windsor as Peggy is, it only helps contribute towards an overdose of allusions which become rather tiresome and tedious as the narrative progresses.

McFadden is joined in the celebrity stakes by The Only Way Is Essex’s Harry Derbidge as Roger the Cabin Boy, a role previously played by Pineapple Dance Studio’s Louie Spence. The gay jokes are still present and one can’t help but think that 17-year-old Derbidge is being exploited for his sexuality. The audience laughs at, rather than with, his campery and lines such as “Not as much as me!” in response to Pan’s “I’ll miss the Lost Boys” appear completely misjudged and inappropriate considering the young performers’ ages. Hook’s remark of “You keep away from my cabin” whiffs at subtle homophobia and leaves the production contributing to and reinforcing negative stereotypes rather than celebrating diversity.

The traditional opening with Mr and Mrs Darling has been thrown out of the window and Act One ends rather abruptly with the Indian camp celebrating Peter’s achievement of tricking Captain Hook. The problem with Peter Pan is that its narrative does not fit the framework of pantomime well and no matter how hard they try, productions are left resembling a musical with a few pantomime conventions thrown in for good measure.

Act Two fares slightly better in the pantomime stakes when Andy Collins as Smee leads the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ routine and a Songsheet to the tune of ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor?’ A natural children’s Comic, Collins works the front cloth piece perfectly and provides a much need quiet and more sensitive moment to the show which is relentless in pace.

A riot of colour and noise, Peter Pan is an assault on the senses. The sound levels are far too high and lead to the production being plagued with intermittent feedback. Each up-beat musical number is played out to the max, devoid of any light and shade resulting in a Pan bereft of emotion, sincerity or feeling.

Sceneographically, the production boasts a glittering set from Terry Parsons and some high quality projection courtesy of Accolade productions. The flying sequences are particularly impressive, although flight path and projection do not always match and result in Wendy and her brothers flying through, rather than up, over and around the rooftops of London. It is also rather odd that the mermaids fly around Dead Man’s Rock when this seems like the perfect opportunity, should flying be so desired, for an additional projection sequence as the watery sirens attempt to pull Wendy in.

First Family Entertainment has tried to give Peter Pan a new spin, but it simply hasn’t worked. This heartless, soulless, loud and brash production does little more than give its audience a headache and is perhaps a reason why Barrie’s famous tale should be best left alone by pantomime producers.

Peter Pan plays at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking until 15th January 2012

Reviewer: Simon Sladen