"All children, except one, grow up" – J M Barrie.
There is trouble in Neverland. Peter Pan has lost his ability to fly, grounded by a lack of fairy dust from the magical waterfall at Mermaid Lagoon as a “new look, new me” fairy Tink seeks out Wendy to return and come to his aid.
First staged on 27 December 1904, ‘Peter Pan’ by J. M. Barrie remains a perennial favourite fantasy tale as ideal Christmas-time entertainment featuring fairies, pirates, mermaids and a hungry crocodile. The prologue gives a snapshot of the backstory in a clever and stylish animation of the Darling children’s nursery, sweeping skywards to take us to a tropical island far, far away. (As a sequel, this dispenses with the peripheral, original characters).
But of course, the villainous, blustering Captain Hook is also back, having escaped his nemesis crocodile, and he is a new man – well no, not really and time will tell whether he will reap what he sows. With his ever so cool pirate crew, Grant Stott, dressed in ornate fur coat, feathered hat and long wavy hair, akin to King Charles II, lords it up, revelling in the crowd’s boos and hisses.
Set against them Aunty May, (Allan Stewart as the outrageously dressed Dame), her ‘teenage’ son, Smee and reformed Pirate, Starkey, join the crew and set sail to attempt to save the day. It's an awfully big adventure with crowd-pleasing antics and fast-paced fun for all everyone. While the rapid-fire reprise of catchlines from the Panto veterans surely goes over the heads of those in the audience still to grow up, the kids are thrilled by the dynamic dance troupe Flawless, with their back-flipping, acrobatic routines.
The usual local asides and football rivalry jazz up the script along with a scattering of scatological humour, sword fights, a trio of green mermaids and very pink and fluffy Barbie and Ken. Captain Hook relates an hilarious story of buying boots at Boots in a tautologically, tortuous, tongue twisting sketch, and Tink delights in a few Frozen-style songs amongst other lively music and dance numbers. Production values are high with the premium stage sets all sumptuous and ship shape, with the orchestra blasting out the melodic score and sound effects with timely rhythm.
Perhaps the greatest strength is that the energetic performances ooze real warmth, particularly when gently teasing a few selected members of the audience.
Looking beyond the exhilarating and exciting pyro flashes the plot has holes big enough to swallow Jock the Big Green Croc and it doesn’t build to a dramatic conclusion, the glittering finale coming all too soon.
The eponymous hero, Peter (played with cheeky, boyish charm), and to some degree, Wendy, are frequently side-lined off stage into the wings, - without their wings. The stars of the show are Auntie May and Captain Hook with Stewart and Stott perfecting their crazy, comedic double act with slick quips and ad-libbing humour.
The narrative casts off much of the original’s moral and existential themes in going straight for escapism. But as the script says, “Neverland has never let us down before” and there is no real danger of the magical pixie dust running out. Like Tink it has had a makeover, and credit is due for rejuvenating it while keeping the traditional pantomime elements such as the “Bring doon the clout” song sheet (some things never grow old).
The production is an antidote for winter woes. As Peter Pan would say “Forget them all. Come with me where you’ll never, never have to worry about grown-up things again.”
Show Times: 25 November – 31 December 2023 at 2pm, 5pm, 7pm (times vary by date). Audio described and BSL interpreted 9 and 15 December.
Tickets: From £27 (discounts available).
(Review in collaboration with Vivien Devlin)