I love the play Peter Pan and I love pantomime but I didn’t believe the two could merge until I saw this year’s production at York Theatre Royal and now I’m a convert to Christmas entertainment fusion!
By Angie Millard
Photos by Pamela Raith
From the beginning, the pantomime characters were presented to us and introduced by Elizabeth (Wendy’s daughter), the girl who originally flew off through the bedroom window and went to Neverland with Peter Pan. Gradually, the story unravelled. Peter flew in looking for his shadow and Elizabeth just couldn’t resist the adventure, so off they went across a spectacular vista of London roofs and buildings. The AV design by Dr Andy provided a spectacular backdrop which reminded me of The Snowman and Walking in the Air.
The set was based on a two-sided revolving structure, signifying the pirate ship and Peter Pan’s woodland home. Several gauzes and back cloths were also used which proved to be immensely adaptable. The flying sequences were immaculate.
Peter, played by the elfin Jason Battersby, created the essence of this boy-child character with intensity. Faye Campbell as Elizabeth was a foil to his performance as she captured the changes of adolescence with humour and Maddie Moate, of CBeebies fame, as Tinkerbell acted as a bridge between the fairy and human world while offering mischief and fun. The audience’s involvement in saving her life later, added just the right sort of pathos.
There were many set pieces and comic scenarios linked throughout by relentless punning jokes which were always signalled and always fresh. My favourite involved Captain Hook trying to get into a spotlight which wouldn’t follow him. Paul Hawkyard maintained superb villainous comedy in the role of Hook. He is dextrous and physically always in control. This was also evident in the playing of Robin Simpson’s Mrs Smee and Jonny Weldon’s Starkey as a comedy trio; their timing was meticulous and they were totally generous to each other. This show had no limelight stealers!
The fish cart used to tell a story using Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond and various ‘plaices’ was slick and funny, the three propelling a boat with their feet and getting grounded was hilarious; there were so many more but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Early in the show the dame identified a likely member of the audience to have fun with. It turned out to be Mr Aldridge who had brought five rows of the audience from a school in Nottinghamshire. His involvement and the ensuing banter were what real panto is all about.
But what of the ensemble, which in this case is a talented chorus dancing up a storm and playing lost boys, pirates, servants and mermaids. Francesca Benton-Stace, the glamorous cockney speaking Myrtle, was comedy gold as the leader of the group. There was also a trio of acrobats, The Black Diamonds, who added that degree of spectacle and madness which takes entertainment to another level.
Props like the crocodile (Hook’s nemesis), and the actor playing Nanny, a huge, acrobatic dog, gave us references to the original book in case we’d forgotten.
There was exceptional stage fighting and a glamorously costumed walk-down. By the finale, I was in pantomime heaven.
Thank you Juliet Foster for renewing my faith in this genre. You certainly run a tight pirate ship and the silver and sparkle showering down on us at the end was truly fairy dust.
All New Adventures of Peter Pan is being performed at York Theatre Royal until January. The director is Juliet Foster and writer is Paul Hendy.
Choreographer; Hayley Del Harrison
Lighting: Alexander Stafford
Sound: Mike Redley
Fight Director: Duncan Woodruff
Costumes Designers: Helga Wood, Ella Haines, Amy Chamberlain
Dame Costumes: Michael J. Bachelor, Joey Arthurs
Musical Director: Benjamin Dovey
Elizabeth: Faye Campbell
Wendy/Myrtle: Francesca Benton-Stace
Captain Hook: Paul Hawkward
Starkey: Jonny Weldon
Mrs Smee: Robin Simpson
Peter Pan: Jason Battersby
Tinkerbell: Maddie Moate
Acrobats: The Three Diamonds
Pirates, Servants, Lost Boys and Girls and Mermaids: The Ensemble