Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 15th December, 2015
Every pantomime version of Peter Pan has expectations to fulfil: people expect to see certain things from the original play as well as all the fun and overt theatricality of the pantomime. Alan McHugh’s adaptation satisfies on most levels: quite a few of J M Barrie’s lines make it into the script, and we get everything we could wish from a panto – apart from a dame, which is a shame, but there is no space for one in this fun-packed adventure.
Ross Carpenter is instantly appealing as a boisterous, Puckish Pan, with a chuckle in his voice (no, not one of those Chuckles) showing how much Peter enjoys his life – something some Pans I have seen don’t seem to do. He flies with grace and runs around with boyish energy. Wendy, a difficult part because she’s often so serious, is played with wide-eyed wonder by Hannah Nicholls. Their opening scenes – indeed, much of the Barrie-like scenes – are played well but at high speed. Director David Burrows has us rattling through the story at a rate of knots; the characters have no thinking time. This is all well and good if we are familiar with the tale, but even then I want them to slow down just a little.
John Altman enjoys himself as a snarling Captain Hook, stalking around the stage and wielding a massive hook. He looks fabulous in his extravagant costume – he deserves better songs to sing. And this is true of the whole shebang. The cast do their best to sell the musical numbers, singing and dancing their hearts out, but we would prefer to hear some better-known tunes. At one point, Peter Pan asks us to join in with his crocodile song but we don’t because we can’t – we don’t know it.
Lucy Evans is good fun as a stroppy, spitefully childish Tinkerbell, while Kimmy Edwards’s Tiger Lily is exotic and in great voice. Local boys James Shaw and Archie Turner appear as John and Michael, making their professional debuts and demonstrating commitment and focus throughout. You’d think they’d been doing this for years.
Who has been doing this for years: the undisputed stars of the show, the Chuckle Brothers. Their old-school style of comedy is the perfect fit for pantomime. But here’s the bonus: the routines and skits they give us are not the commonplace moments that crop up in every panto. This brings a freshness and an air of anything-might-happen to proceedings. Seemingly effortless, Paul and Barry are supreme entertainers: the comic timing is impeccable and the interplay between their personas is never short of hilarious. Watch out for a scene with a cucumber, and a simple but effective bit involving grown-up audience participation – a refreshing change from the parade of little kids that is usually brought up for a sing-song. At first it seems that their scenes interrupt the main story but they soon become integrated into the plot, as the Smee Brothers, wannabe pirates with a conscience.
The ensemble works hard: Hook turns out to be an equal opportunities employer – there are as many sexy female pirates as there are camp male ones. Steven Harris’s choreography keeps the stage vibrant and busy, even if the songs are a tad uninspiring. Under the baton of MD David Lane, the band keeps energy levels high. And that’s what you want, in the end. You want entertainment and fun. This Peter Pan delivers belly laughs and spectacle – Hook’s pirate ship is especially striking. There is something for everyone – if the yelling of a child sitting behind me that he believes in fairies, and the lecherous exclamations of a nearby dad, seeing Tinker Bell for the first time, are anything to go by.
Playing until Sunday 24th January, 2016 – Tickets available from the Box Office on 01902 429212 or book online at the website.