Tag Archives: Peter Pan

What a Croc!

PETER PAN

Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 20th December, 2018

 

Birmingham’s Hippodrome theatre can be counted on to stage the biggest, brightest pantomime year after year and this year is no exception.  Peter Pan is a bit of a weird one, as pantos go, because we expect to see certain key plot points from the J M Barrie play along with traditional panto elements as befit the format.  There is no wedding celebration at the end, for example, because there is no couple of lovers; in fact, Peter and Wendy’s story ends with separation.  Bit of a downer, there, Mr Barrie.

Other than that, it is quite a good fit in this adaptation for the pantomime stage by Alan McHugh and director Michael Harrison.  Big, bold and extravagant, the Hippodrome panto is the jewel in the Qdos crown, but it doesn’t matter how much money you chuck at the stage, it doesn’t matter how big the Wow factor is, if the show doesn’t have any heart.

Rest assured, heart is not in short supply either, thanks to a superlative cast.

Back for his sixth year on the trot, funnyman Matt Slack almost dominates proceedings as Mr Smee.  With Slack, you know exactly what you’re getting, and you’re delighted to get it.  There is nothing slack about his comedic skills: a bit rude, a lot daft, and with exquisite timing.  His impressions are always impressive too.

Union J’s Jaymi Hensley is practically perfect as Peter, with his boyish good looks and angelic pop vocals.  I could listen to him all night.

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Pan-tastic: Jaymi Hensley

Cassie Compton makes an earnest Wendy, while Kellie Gnauck is an appealingly bratty Tinker Bell.  Meera Syal brings local colour to the show in her pantomime debut as the Magical Mermaid and is clearly enjoying herself immensely.  There are old-school variety acts courtesy of the remarkable Timbuktu Tumblers and a gravity-defying balancing act called the Drunken Pirates (Sascha Williams and his assistant Stephanie Nock).

The flying effects are as you’d expect but there are also some surprises.  Most impressive of all is the Crocodile, whose terrifying appearance brings the first act to a close.  Truly, the best I have seen.

The coup though is the casting of not-so little Jimmy Osmond in the role of Captain Hook.  Osmond is the embodiment of entertainment and one of those rare creatures, an American who gets pantomime.  He establishes an excellent rapport with Slack, the straight guy to the latter’s buffoonery, and he treats us with several songs from his brothers’ repertoire, for a rousing finale.

This spectacular affair is a lot of fun.  The comic song, If I Were Not in Neverland, brings the house down, and Slack’s handling of the four youngsters who come up on stage for the sing-along is always a highlight.

One thing I will say: the show could do with a wider range of costumes.  Captain Hook especially deserves an extensive wardrobe, and in the absence of a dame, the Magical Mermaid could do with some more outlandish outfits.

But never mind that.  This is a top-drawer production, an awfully big adventure that is hilarious and magical, demonstrating that what matters most of all is casting.  Get that right and everything else is a bonus.

jimmy osmond

Hooked on a feeling: Jimmy Osmond

 

 

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Chuckles with the Chuckles

PETER PAN

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.

The Chuckle Brothers as Paul & Barry Smee

The Chuckle Brothers as Paul and Barry Smee

 Playing until Sunday 24th January, 2016 – Tickets available from the Box Office on 01902 429212 or book online at the website.

 


Chuckles, Cotton and Pan

PETER PAN Panto Launch

The Molineux Centre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 3rd September, 2015

 

The Grand Theatre’s pantomime this year will be Peter Pan, starring the indefatigable Chuckle Brothers as a pair of hapless pirates, Paul and Barry Smee, and EastEnders’ John Altman as Captain Hook. First though, I meet newcomer Ross Carpenter who will be flying high in the title role.

Only 22 years old – but he doesn’t look it – Carpenter is a personable young man whose boyish good looks make him great casting. “All my family and friends call me Peter Pan,” he says, “because I’m like that anyway.” He says you have to be Peter Pan in real life to make Peter Pan believable; the role is “a heightened version of myself.”

No stranger to the wires, Carpenter first played the role last year in Northampton and admits the flying is daunting at first but it’s the best part! Now, I may be a boy who never grew up, but I’ll leave all the aerobatics to him.

Ross Carpenter IS Peter Pan

Ross Carpenter IS Peter Pan

Next up, I encounter TV’s Nasty Nick Cotton, John Altman who is of course much nicer in real life. (That’s what acting means, William). I ask how he’s going to approach Hook and he tells me he won’t necessarily be Cockney – although there will of course be Nick Cotton references. Pirates of the Caribbean-y, he says, a roguish pirate. He is keen to point out that he doesn’t regard himself as typecast in the role of villain, and when you look at his CV you see there is more to him than Soap’s nastiest baddie. I ask about musical theatre roles and he reveals he’d like to try something like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Walking around with Nick Cotton’s face is all right, he says. “I was worried when I first took it on but it’s OK.” He avoids pubs at closing time when people might get a bit lairy, so it does affect decisions about where to go and when, but on the whole, it’s good.

I ask about Shakespeare. “Yes, good question.” He’d love to do it but never has. He feels ready for it now. “When you study Shakespeare as a child you don’t appreciate it, you don’t understand most of it: the love story say of Romeo and Juliet, and the rival factions. You don’t realise that’s something that goes on all the time, all over the world.”

I say I can easily see him as a Richard III.

“Thank you. Or Shylock maybe. That’s something I’d like to try.”

There is something about Altman, beyond his warmth – a hint of wickedness, perhaps. “I’ll be striking fear into the hearts of the Wolverhampton peasants,” he says. And you believe it.

Slinging his Hook: John Altman talks to Jason Forrest.

Slinging his Hook: John Altman talks to Jason Forrest.

Paul and Barry Chuckle greet me with a twinkle in their eye. “It’s great to be back,” says Paul (not the small one, the other one), “We love Wolverhampton.”

Astonishingly, it will be their 49th year in panto. Add to that one they made for the telly, and Peter Pan will be their 50th. I ask what’s the secret of their longevity. “We won’t go!” laughs Paul.

Brother Barry adds, “The comedy we do is for everybody, across the board. That’s probably why we’re still going.”

Paul: We never do stuff for kids. Or for mums and dads. What we do is for everybody. If it’s not funny, we won’t do it.

As influences they cite their own dad, who was a gang show performer, Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis, and Abbott and Costello.

I ask them to describe pantomime to someone who has never heard of it, a Martian perhaps, or an American.

“Fun,” says Paul. “In our pantos that’s all we aim at: comedy. It’s a fairy story –

“With laughs and a few songs thrown in,” Barry finishes the thought for him. Audiences can expect a lot of laughs, pies in faces, and nothing but fun.

Producer Michael Harrison says he sees pantomime as a distinct art form, like opera and ballet. “There are some people who can do it, and some that can’t.” Judging by the line-up I’ve met so far, I’d say this particular panto is in very safe hands.

Peter Pan runs at the Grand Theatre from December 12th until January 24th. I can’t wait!

To Smee, to you: Barry and Paul Chuckle.

To Smee, to you: Barry and Paul Chuckle.


Peter Panned

PETER PAN

Hippodrome, Birmingham, Thursday 11th June, 2015

Odd, you think, that Welsh National Opera present Richard Ayres’s opera at this time of year. Surely, it might attract more of an audience at a more festive time of year.

Anyway, here it is.

Ayres’s score is sophisticated and complex, at odds with the subject matter for the most part, making me think we are to observe through the lens of adulthood rather than the innocence of childhood. It’s a hard listen though superbly sung. Hilary Summers as Mrs Darling sings a weird lullaby in which she tells her kids she will ‘tidy their minds’ while they sleep. She returns as Tiger Lily later on, which seems a lot more fun. Ashley Holland blusters as her husband and struts and preens as a colourful Captain Hook – it is when the pirates come on that the whole enterprise lifts, as silliness and camp are permitted to creep in – but just for a moment.

Marie Arnet’s Wendy is both sweet and earnest, while her brothers (Nicholas Sharratt and Rebecca Bottone) throw themselves around with enthusiasm. It’s Aidan Smith in a dog suit as Nana who gets the best reception. An air of surrealism hangs over the whole enterprise: Jason Southgate’s set takes elements from an Edwardian nursery and enlarges them – Neverland, for example, is a collection of building blocks, and the pirate ship is an overgrown choo-choo.

Counter-tenor Iestyn Morris is Pan, in white and silver garb, performing aerial tricks while singing. He’s suitably heroic and boyish but there is something missing – and I mean with the entire production. It’s lacking in a spirit of fun and adventure, the playfulness of Barrie’s play.

It’s not just because of the dense music. The lighting (by Bruno Poet) is simply too dim for the majority of the show. Both the ‘real world’ and Neverland are murky places, never mind the mood of the characters or the time of day.

And it’s a shame because the orchestra under Erik Nielsen’s baton and the chorus (as ever) are in superb form, summoning up some of the exuberance the material requires to get off the ground.

Director Keith Warner adds some comic touches but they are lost in the general gloom – which is just as well in the case of some ill-advised fart jokes.

It seems to me a mismatch all around. Neither Ayres’s score nor this production’s design suit the material. Neither do they shed new light on the familiar story – in fact there is very little light at all.

Me and My Shadow: Peter Pan - Iestyn Morris; Wendy - Marie Arnet Credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ ArenaPAL

Me and My Shadow:
Peter Pan – Iestyn Morris; Wendy – Marie Arnet
Credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ ArenaPAL


Peter Panto

PETER PAN

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.

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Hoff the Hook


Muses muse

PETER AND ALICE

Noel Coward Theatre, London, Saturday 18th May, 2013

 

The premise of John Logan’s new play is ‘what if the boy who inspired Peter Pan and the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland met as grown-ups in real life?’  Logan gives us an answer to this ‘what if’ but also much more.

Peter Llewellyn Davies (Ben Whishaw) is a delicate man, scruffy in his tweed jacket and shapeless slacks.  He encounters Alice Liddell Hargreaves (Judi Dench) as they wait to take part in a talk or lecture about the books that sprang from their relationships with the authors.

As they wait, they compare experiences, what life has been like linked to their literary counterparts, and it soon becomes apparent there is a hint of Lady Bracknell to old Alice.  Peter stands his ground against her but it is clear he is uncomfortable.  Rather than extending this amusing interaction for the whole of the running time, Logan gives us something more fantastical.  The book-ridden waiting room flies away to reveal a set like a Victorian toy theatre.  Drawn figures inhabit the boxes: recognisable as Tenniel’s interpretations of Lewis Carroll characters; the backdrops bring to mind illustrations by the likes of Arthur Rackham and E. Shepherd.  The stage itself is a chess board of black and white squares.  Peter and Alice reminisce, challenging each other’s recollections, and here the play discusses the nature of memory.  “You’re remembering yourself as you are now,” Old Alice chides Peter, “only smaller.”  Memory is coloured by who we are now, what those past events have made us into.

Through their eyes, we meet the Reverend Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll and J M Barrie.  The writers are portrayed as eccentric, enthusiastic coves, driven by loneliness.  Peter and Alice consider their relationships with the authors.  There is no case of molestation but they conclude it was some form of abuse, forcing a child to navigate a relationship for which that child isn’t ready.  A kind of emotional abuse, then.

The characters themselves appear; Peter flies in and Alice steps up from a door in the floor.  They are the fictionalised, immortal versions of the man and woman who grew up in their shadow.  They catalogue their adult counterparts’ flaws and failings with childlike directness.  Real world Peter and Alice have a love/hate relationship on the characters they inspired.

They discuss growing up and growing old.  It is absolutely fitting that two characters from everyone’s childhood expound on subjects that are universal.   And so the play moves from re-enacted biography and particular tragedy to something that has emotional resonance with everyone.

Peter Pan (Olly Alexander) and Alice in Wonderland (Ruby Bentall) portray the familiar figures with an almost inhuman quality – up against the ‘real world’ characters, they are understandably two-dimensional and flat.  Stefano Braschi is dapper and amusing as the upper class twit who struggles to propose to Judi Dench, and Nicholas Farrell and Derek Riddell bring more than eccentricity and creepiness to the writers Carroll and Barrie respectively in their sentimental attachments to their young muses.

Judi Dench is sublime as the acerbic Alice, putting aside her walking stick to become the very young girl again, shedding the authority and cantankerousness of age for the innocence and curiosity of youth. Her reaction to news of losing two sons in the First World War is heart-rending.

Ben Whishaw also excels as the damaged Peter, a sad and fragile figure, whose cares melt away when he relives happy moments from childhood.  But the loss of his parents and brothers has affected him irrevocably.   He’s the kind of man you want to shake one minute and sit him down and give him a hearty meal the next. Whishaw gives a poignant performance, thoroughly credible and endearing.

Childhood, says Alice, “gives us a bank of happy memories” against the sorrows that come when we are old.  If we’re lucky, old girl.

It’s a wistful rather than nostalgic production.  Melancholy runs through it but there is also plenty of humour in the dialogue and some rather lyrical and reflective passages.  It’s a strong contender for Best New Play in the theatre awards of my imagination.

Christopher Oram’s set design is evocative and entirely appropriate.  Michael Grandage directs with restraint, giving the script room to breathe.  There is, among others, a beautiful staged scene with old Alice as young Alice with Dodgson in his dark room, developing a photographic plate, immortalising her.  It encapsulates, defines and terminates their relationship – every part of the play operates on several levels: past and present seen through the prism of our own memory and affection for the literary characters.

We cannot help but be moved by the fate of the real-life Peter and Alice, and we leave the theatre with our own memories and sense of mortality pricked by this absorbing and rewarding piece of theatre.

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Watch your Ms and Qs: Alice Liddell meets Peter Pan (Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw)