Holly Dale Spencer
There are two types of people in the world: those who love the gaudy costumes, simple storylines and formulaic nature of the annual pantomime and those who would rather chew their arm off then sit through two hours of stage innuendos and calls of “It’s behind you”.
I am, happily, in the former category; and I expect that little I say here will persuade the latter group otherwise, they will still roll their eyes and turn up their nose.
For those who, like me, like their pantos straight down the line, may I say that the production of Peter Pan at the New Wimbledon Theatre is an example of the form at its absolute best.
The story, of course, follows the fortunes of Wendy, John and Michael Darling and their adventures with Peter Pan -the boy who refused to grow up. Peter is played with fantastic energy by Sarah Jane Honeywell; every move and mannerism is authentically that of a young boy and she spends much of the time flying across the set.
Susie Anton is stereotypically sweet and bossy as Wendy, but is also adept at wide-eyed innocence. But, inevitably, it is the pirates that make this production so memorable. Henry Winkler (yes, Fonzie from Happy Days) is excellent as Captain Hook and completely justifies the transatlantic journey, what’s more he never plays on his most famous role and you never miss it. He is a loquacious Hook who delights in his evil deeds and has a smile on his face much of the time, as if imagining the demise of small children. In short the perfect pantomime villain.
Bobby Davro is wonderful as Smee and nearly steals the whole show, grabbing most of the best lines and the funniest songs, especially those involving a large kangaroo. At one point Davro mutters under his breath about his two shows a day, and you do have to wonder if he will make it, for he throws so much energy out into the audience. What is most refreshing is that he truly appears to be enjoying himself all the way through.
The supporting cast is uniformly strong – however special mention must go to Ben Redfern and Toby Guy Parsons, who along with Davro give a fast paced, energetic and subversive rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Terry Parsons’ sets are simple, yet joyous, and they create a magical atmosphere which helps the indians, pirates and mermaids of Neverland come alive. Eric Potts adaptation has remained faithful to its source material, his Peter Pan is definitely the Victorian creation found in J.M. Barrie’s original, however it is also flexible enough to make room for a rousing renditions of popular songs without them ever feeling out of place or awkward.
I doubt I’ll have convinced the pantomime naysayers with anything I’ve said here, however if you like this kind of seasonal entertainment then you are going to be hard pushed to find a better example this year or any other.