Emma Clegg reviews Peter Pan, on at Theatre Royal Bath until 13 January
Go to Theatre Royal Bath this Christmas to see a riot of sparkling lights, streaming strands of tinsel, somersaults, catchy music, raucous costumes, astrological stars and on-stage ones, jollity at every turn, and a pretty darn congested flying space.
Peter Pan the Christmas panto conjures up a combo of Disney, Chipperfield’s Circus, childhood dreams, grand imaginations, quirky and evil characters, fairy mischief, woodland magic, undersea adventures, blusters of general silliness and a large dose of flying through the clouds with abandon.
It transports both tiny tots and tall people way up to the stars, behind Peter Pan, and then all the way back again. You’ll find the recurrent compulsory waves of pantomime banter (“He’s behind you!”; “Oh no he isn’t”!; “Oh yes he is!”). There are nursery rhymes (row, row, row your boat, with a croc of course), and adapted renditions of popular songs by Abba (Gimme Gimme Gimme), Queen (Don’t Stop Me Now), All-4-One (Swear), The Greatest Showman (This is Me), and Wicked (Defying Gravity). You’ll love ‘em even if you hate ‘em.
Yes, there’s something for everyone. The smaller audience members will naturally love the flying, the songs, the circus acrobatics, the cheeky ripostes and the upbeat, enervating music. They are also likely to score the spraying of water pistols in the audience by Hook and Smee quite highly, hoping upon hope that they might get wet (while the adults rummage for their waterproofs). They will love the pale green shimmering, disruptive Tinkerbell (Rachel Grundy) on skates and the underwater escapades with the Mermaid (Rebecca Wheatley) and Tiger Lily (Danielle Black).
Jon Monie is also on the money, making his 13th successive appearance in the Bath Christmas panto, this time as Smee, Hook’s assistant – he looks so at home on the TRB stage that he gives the impression that he’s been hibernating behind the scenes all year. His boundless energy; large, expressive chameleon-like eyes; physical clowning (including an extended series of energetic moves on a gym horse with a trio of gymnasts and performing arts professionals); and sing-a-long bossiness tick all the pantomime boxes in a chunky permanent marker pen.
The older members of the audience can spend their time scrutinising Paul Nicholas’ (aka Captain Hook) face for any traces of Vincent from Just Good Friends (the crunchy twinkling eyes are still there – hooray!). Nicholas adopts a deep, reverberating voice in his character that embraces horrible Hook to a T, but the aforementioned twinkling eyes and the large plastic unsharp hook on his left arm will reassure those of a delicate disposition.
This part of the congregation can also plan to rehome cute all-in-green head lost boy Peter Pan (Tim Edwards) who bears a very striking resemblance to Dec (of Ant and). Pan spends way more time in the air doing somersaults being a fairy than with his feet on the ground dealing sensibly with the plot, so the visual spectacle factors high.
Then we’re reminded that a sensible plot is not what it’s all about. The grounding moral of the tale is that it’s OK to believe in magic, to find that place between sleeping and dreaming, that everyone needs a parent’s love, and that childhood is a time of endless wonder and simplicity (“I just want to be a boy and have adventures!”), and that there’s no need to have complex layers.
Also that flying is acceptable if you’re following Peter Pan the legend, although he does hog the air space somewhat. But this is good if you’re in restricted view seats.
Being picky, the three nursery beds in the opening scene were totally unconvincing; even baby Michael had to lean against the wall while asleep, let alone Wendy who could hardly perch on her bed. The nursery wallpaper was totes garish – is yellow a good idea for bedrooms? – although it changed colour with each swathe of theatrical light. And Tinkerbell, as an intelligent, spirited fairy, could have poured the bottle of poison on the floor so that Peter doesn’t drink it, rather than swig it down with gusto, with certain death following. Fortunately, Tinks remembers that if the whole audience says “I believe in fairies”, she will recover. Phew.
“Mermaids, Pirates and Indians”, says Peter Pan. “What could be better than that?” What indeed. Yep, go along and see for yourself.
Main image: Tim Edwards (Peter Pan), Danielle Black (Tiger Lily), J Huxley-Golden (Wendy), Rebecca Wheatley (Mermaid Persil) in Peter Pan. Credit: Freia Turland