THE PANTOMIME ADVENTURES OF PETER PAN
Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent, Thursday 29th December, 2022
The title clearly states that this is not going to be the J.M. Barrie classic. In fact, this is more of a sequel to the well-known story. It begins with Tinkerbell, in the panto role of Good Fairy, welcoming Wendy Darling back to Neverland. There is trouble afoot. Something about supplies of pixie dust in short supply, blah blah. Of course, the plot is not the main focus of pantomime. The main focus of pantomime is fun, and this one has it in spades.
Appearing as Smee is local superstar and Regent favourite, Jonathan Wilkes who, let’s face it, is the one everyone comes to see. Wilkes is the embodiment of pantomime: he sings, he dances, he can handle an audience and a comic monologue, and as director, he knows how every aspect of the show should work. He has a cocky but not arrogant persona, a cheeky boyish charm that enables him to get away with the most bawdy lines. Never mind Pan, he is the one who has never grown up and we all love him for it.
This year, Wilkes is hooked up with returning favourite Kai Owen as the nefarious pirate Captain, supposedly reformed having been poohed out by the crocodile. The highlights of the show are their routines – some of them time-honoured and traditional, others fresh and new. A scene where they drag up as mermaids is particularly hilarious, and as the run reaches its end, it’s obvious they are still very much enjoying themselves.
In the title role is a youthful and energetic Rory Sutherland, with all the right poses and heroic stances. This Peter is an action hero as well as an adorable twink. The plot means he is grounded until the pixie dust shortage is resolved, so when Sutherland finally takes to the air, we’re with him.
Amanda Coutts’s Tinkerbell is a gorblimey kind of fairy, bearing no ill-will or jealousy towards Hannah Everest’s confident and earnest Wendy Darling. Both girls have powerful singing voices, and it’s great to see Wendy play an active role in the climactic defeat of Captain Hook.
The plot is new yet encompasses what we expect from both panto and Peter Pan. The script by Alan McHugh and Jonathan Wilkes is riddled with jokes, some of them old, some of them new, and only a few of which never land. There’s the almost obligatory Twelve Days of Christmas, which rapidly descends into chaos, the ancient ‘Who’s in the first house?” routine… Wilkes and Owen carry it all off with aplomb. All right, so we don’t get out-and-out slapstick, but the element I miss the most is one of the most pivotal characters in the pantomime pantheon. There is nothing like a dame. For me, this is all that’s lacking from this ribald and rowdy, rollocking and riotous piece of theatre.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ and a half!
Hannah Everest, Jonathan Wilkes, Amanda Coutts, and Rory Sutherland (Photo: Claralou Photography)