The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan
Based on the original story by J M Barrie, adapted by Lee Waddingham
Derby LIVE and Paul Holman Associates
Assembly Rooms, Derby
When a production has two stars as magnetic as Larry Lamb and George Sampson, it can hardly go wrong.
Lamb, villain of the year at the British Soap Awards in 2010 for his portrayal of Archie Mitchell in EastEnders, slips into the role of Captain Hook as though it had been written for him.
He’s nasty in a not too serious way, he gets applause when he first walks on stage and children boo him with every subsequent appearance; he’s a baddie with style.
Sampson, winner of Britain’s Got Talent in 2008, is the big attraction for the younger members of the audience as Peter Pan.
His dance routines are slick, his flying similarly impressive—his somersaults when he appears over the heads of the audience deserve the gasps of admiration that break out throughout the auditorium—and he is a competent singer, although he doesn’t have a strong voice.
For good measure The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan has Mike “Squeaky” McClean. He was a big hit last year as Idle Jack in Dick Whittington and His Cat. Now he is just as funny, if not funnier, as Smee.
Some of his routine with children who are brought on stage towards the end of the show is the same as 12 months ago but just as hilarious.
The scene in which Smee is a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and Hook is the question-master is clever and comical even though some of the gags are nearly prehistoric.
But while Lamb, Sampson and McClean provide the standout moments, they’re not on stage the whole time and can’t totally compensate for the show’s imperfections.
Jason Sutton works incredibly hard to make an impression as Able Mable but I got the impression that this panto really doesn’t need a dame. The part seems totally contrived—even more so than is usual with the genre.
Sutton shows his pedigree in a scene with McClean in which Able Mable is baking a cake for Hook’s crew—the ad libs are excellent and better than the slapstick. But Sutton can’t completely hide the flimsiness of the script.
Other sections of The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan appear to have been done on a budget and lack sparkle. That’s not the case, though, with Tinker Bell who appears as a hologram from an exploding ball of light.
The structure of The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan is similar to that of Dick Whittington and His Cat and Aladdin the year before: the comedian’s routine with the children doesn’t happen until almost the end of the show, giving the cast time to change into spectacular costumes for the finale.
But those costumes are seen only during the curtain call and the obligatory encore, which seems a waste. At least the closing song has been changed.
For the past six years, father-and-son team Keith and Ben Simmons have written the Assembly Rooms panto; this year they are directing. Some people must be rueing the decision not to get them to pen this year’s offering too...
As a family entertainment, The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan will keep younger members thrilled. But older theatregoers may get the feeling that the production is unbalanced quality-wise in scenes without Lamb, Sampson and McClean.