The Nottingham Theatre Royal star vehicle pantomime is a very popular panto for many reasons; the pull of the lead performers that Nottingham Theatre Royal is able to attract, its grand spectacle and its overall polished professionalism brings audiences back year after to year for a similar festive experience. This year’s panto, Peter Pan is directed and choreographed by Jonny Bowles with musical supervision by Ricky Coates. Peter Pan is adapted by Alan McHugh with additional material by Joe Pasquale.
Like many a commercial pantomime the show storylines are fairly thinly drawn and padded out with lots of comedy fun, plenty of colourfulness, some super dancing and singing, credible panto acting, and often a touch of an ex X Factor or two in the line up. These days you are very likely to be sprayed with a water gun by one of the cast even as you enjoy the classic fast paced Twelve Days of Christmas song playfully sung by the cast.
As we said, this year we have the well loved story of Peter Pan – the orphan boy who never wants to grow up, who resides in Neverland and is hated by Captain Hook (John Challis) for chopping off his hand in a former fight. Then there are the children Wendy, Michael and John who are whisked off to Neverland with Peter and his bonkers fairy friend Tinker Bell (Lucy Evans) for an adventure like no other. And they get to fly, as if by magic.
This showing of Peter Pan certainly gets off to a rapid start. Within seconds Peter Pan (Jack McNeill) is flown on stage to be with the Darling children Wendy (Rosie O’Hare) and Michael (Ben Philips/Kario White) and John (Samuel Brown/Lucas Emerson). Totally trusting, and in panto style, they allow Peter to take them away from their cosy home on Earth to a far off galaxy. A bit like Dr Who with sparkles. Directions? Second star on the right – straight on ’til morning. There is no initial sign of their parents and Nana the dog is all but forgotten as soon as their new skill of flying is given to them by Flying by Foy. Kids huh?
Arriving in Neverland faster than the Red Arrow Derby-Nottingham bus journey our heroes meet a succession of characters such as the evil Captain Hook and his latest recruit – the lovable Smee played by the lovable actor comedian Joe (lovable) Pasquale. In this production the minor character Smee is upgraded to be a friend of Peter Pan. When you are a friend of Peter you are allowed to ruffle his boyish hair and ad lib like crazy. This Nottingham audience can’t get enough of Mr Pasquale and his naturally cheeky ways and his comic timing is spot on.
Jack McNeill makes a perfect Peter Pan as he is boyishly good looking, genuinely charming, a great singer, has bags of humour and personality. He knows all the right Peter Pan poses and he really can fly without the aid of wires. Honestly boys and girls.
We also love Lucy Evans’ lively performance as Tinker Bell the naughty fairy and equally that of Rory Furey-King the female brave Tiger Lily.
Peter’s earthly friend Wendy is sweetly played and sung by Rosie O’Hare. It is a shame that her role is rather underwritten in this pantomime as O’Hare clearly has lots to offer in performing, what we believe is, the key role of Wendy Darling, a young woman on the cusp of growing up. As opposed to orphan Peter Pan who refuses ever to grow up but secretly would love a real Mummy and Daddy. Welling up now.
Jolly Roger mate Starkey, played by Paul Gabriel gives us some great comedy moments to enjoy.
Of course many people will have happily paid to see actor John Challis play Captain Hook and he does a fine job of being heinous without scaring the kiddies too much. One thing in this year’s panto that we like is the constant lack of oblique references to the television programmes that the leads may have starred in. It is only on Hook’s final departure we get any reference to Only Fools And Horses and it is a genuinely funny moment. The Peter Pan story holds enough attraction on its own without trying to be something else too. In our humble opinion panto is about suspending belief not about the audience constantly needing a reminder that a certain actor was in XYZ TV show.
There is a hard working eight strong ensemble who show off their choreographic and fighting skills excellently and the Theatre Royal Babes are adorable in their Lost Children roles.
The Nottingham Theatre Royal panto is famed for its spectacular set and costume designs and a scary 3D moment in the second half. This year is no different and all these elements enchant from the very start. The accompanying live music is top class but occasionally gets broadcast over loud and drowns out some of the excellent singing. The giant crocodile at the end of act one is genuinely awe inspiring.
For a feast of familiar family fun Peter Pan at Nottingham Theatre Royal is truly a high flying pantomime adventure.
Peter Pan runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Sunday 13th January 2019. “Oh yes it does”.
Photography credits: Tracey Whitefoot.
Peter Pan is supported locally by Notts TV.
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Phil Lowe is a member of UK Theatre