Theatre Royal, Nottingham, Sunday 15th December, 2013
Every time I go to see a version of Peter Pan, I am struck by how it’s invariably a mixed bag of a thing: neither a pure pantomime nor a ‘straight’ (for want of a better term) play. The J M Barrie original acknowledges the audience and encourages participation (and woe betide any version that doesn’t invite us to aver our belief in fairies!).
This one begins, play-like, in the nursery – as opposed to the usual chorus of dancing villagers that begins most pantomimes. When Peter Pan (Barney Harwood) flies in through the window, he also breaks the fourth wall, and we’re off. Looking trimmer than ever (thanks to the rigours of his Blue Peter challenges) Harwood is effortlessly boyish and innocent and yet again I am reminded of the high quality of his singing voice. Many a talent show wannabe would kill to have such a pop-star sound. He is not alone: Wendy (Hannah Nicholas), Tinkerbell (Isobel Hathaway) and Tiger Lily (Billie Kay) all have impressive voices – the songs are ‘originals’ and tuneful enough, but I like to hear familiar if incongruous numbers in a panto; something we can all sing along with.
Su Pollard, playing to a home crowd, is good value as magical mermaid Mimi, essentially playing the dame’s role. It’s a pity she doesn’t get a range of outlandish outfits to show off but her off-colour jokes are aimed squarely at the older members of the audience are very funny. She is beaten in the comedy stakes however by Ben Nickless as Mr Smee. Nickless embodies the most traditional elements of the show, an old-school entertainer – we quickly overlook he is on the side of the baddie.
And what a baddie it is! As Captain Hook, David Hasselhoff is remarkable. If you think Americans don’t ‘get’ panto, think again. He strides around like a colossus, thoroughly at home in his characterisation and a script that is riddled with Hoff-mockery. Of course there are Baywatch and Knight Rider gags – how could there not be? – but The Hoff takes it all on the chin and somehow retains his dignity, his glorious, cheesy dignity. I think I’m in love.
And so this particular version of Peter Pan rattles along at a fair pace, providing plenty to entertain everyone. It hits all the plot points, entertains kids and adults of all ages, is camper than Christmas and leaves you with a big grin on your face. Highly recommended.