[Press tickets provided in exchange for a review]
Well shiver me timbers and sprinkle me with fairy dust – panto season has well and truly started, and Mayflower Theatre has pulled out all the stops to bring JM Barrie’s family-favourite tale of Peter Pan to Southampton for Christmas 2019.
But does this fairytale keep the audience Hooked, or has the ship sailed on this festive production?
Most of us will know the general story of Peter Pan – the lost boy who whisks Wendy Darling and her brothers, Michael and John, to Neverland, where they encounter Indians, mermaids, Tinkerbell and Pan’s arch-nemesis, the nefarious Captain Hook.
It’s a tale of classic adventure; swashbuckling pirates and curious tribes, jungles and fairies – and never having to grow up. This is the stuff childhood dreams are made of.
When the Mayflower Theatre team invited me to the press night of their pantomime adaptation, I was excited to see how this would translate onto the stage – and how the creative team would work their magic, all while fitting in the classic pantomime puns and tropes we all love!
In the end, there seems to be almost too much to include. This version of Peter Pan is an absolute spectacle; what it lacks in substance, it makes up for in style, offering a visually enchanting production.
The cast is always a huge draw when it comes to pantomimes, especially when there are celebrities involved! Wet Wet Wet’s Marti Pellow is the big name this year, and he’s so rakishly charming as Captain Hook it’s very hard to boo him offstage. Although he is not the most over-the-top, wicked pantomime villain, he certainly is brooding and sinister and prowls around in a thoroughly modern getup. As you’d expect, his vocals don’t disappoint either.
Darren Day is excellent comic relief as Smee. His role seems to be slightly confused (in this adaptation, he flies to Neverland with Wendy and co) but he does a great job keeping the story moving with good humour, impressions and plenty of witty comments. Even when he slips up a few times, he’s saved by his ability to laugh at himself and enjoy it, which makes him even more fun to watch.
The Grumbleweeds are the other highlight of the show; a duo I previously hadn’t heard of, they surpassed my expectation by cracking out some fantastic puns, original jokes and silly sketches here, there and everywhere, and they fully take advantage of the pantomime trope of innuendo. Some of their ‘bits’ are a little near the knuckle, but they seem to get away with it with naked ambition – literally!
Union J’s Jaymi Hensley is Peter, joining Cassie Compton’s Wendy and Micha Richardson’s Tiger Lily. These are all loveable characters, and while they could do with being a little more ‘fleshed out’, they perform with some incredible vocal talent and charm the audience.
Kellie Gnauck’s Tinkerbell is wonderfully glamorous and gloriously catty, in true Tink fashion. Her references to Love Island and perky persona make her a thoroughly modern-day fairy.
A few brief performances by The Timbuktu Tumblers, as The Neverlanders, are showstopping and another fantastic addition to the show. Their impressive acrobatic feats wow the audience and, while adding nothing to the story, add a lot to the overall experience.
This show is a visual extravaganza. With gorgeous sets, complete with moving ships, flying motorbikes and a genuinely terrifying giant crocodile, the magic of Neverland really is brought to life on stage.
The use of mechanicals is twinned with projections that take this show to the next level. Gone are the simple days of the simple panto; this is a full-scale Hollywood-esque production which uses lights and screens to transport us through space to Neverland, and above the rooftops of Southampton. Add to that some pyrotechnics and spectacular lighting, and you have yourself a show that will dazzle little and large alike.
While the show is a feast for the eyes, it is hard to keep up with the plot. Admittedly, pantomimes aren’t renowned for their complex storylines, but they are usually at least easy to follow.
Peter Pan seems to quickly jump from scene to scene – it feels as though very little action happens between extravagant musical numbers, and banter between the comedic characters. Major moments, such as Tink’s self-sacrifice and Peter’s fight with Hook, are lost amidst the singing and dancing, and at times I started to feel like a Lost Boy myself.
The result is almost a variety show consisting of entertaining comedy skits, impressions, musical performances and impressive special effects, all drawn together by a vague plot. Sadly, I didn’t feel swept off my feet when Wendy was swept away by Peter; but the show can just about get away with it.
I should add that there are also some slightly awkward elements to this show which didn’t seem to sit well in today’s climate. The use of an R Kelly song in one scene, for example, is rather distasteful, and some elements of audience participation had me feeling a little bit uncomfortable.
That being said, there are some truly hilarious moments that had us almost crying with laughter. The skits performed by Darren Day and the Grumbleweeds, in particular, really are the highlights of the show for me.
I confess that I am somewhat of a seasoned panto spectator, and have seen my fair share of shows; so my expectations may be a little higher than others. The audience seemed to enjoy the production thoroughly, especially the younger children, and the atmosphere in the auditorium was electric – exactly as you would hope for a Christmas panto!
Peter Pan really is a story that will never grow old, and the creative team behind the Mayflower’s production have given it a new lease of life in this dazzling festive feast for the eyes.
While it’s an ambitious tale to tell in just a few hours, and despite its flimsy plotline, the show is sure to be a hit with young and old alike thanks to its sense of adventure, loveable cast, and superb style.
Tickets gifted by Mayflower Theatre, but as always, my opinions are all completely honest, unbiased and my own
Images provided by Mayflower Theatre.