York Theatre Royal – until Monday 2nd January 2023
Reviewed by Michelle Richardson
JM Barrie’s Peter Pan is the boy who never grows up. A mischievous free spirit, who spends his time in Neverland, having adventures with the Lost Boys and his best friend Tinkerbell, all whilst thwarting the dastardly actions of his arch enemy, Captain Hook. This pantomime is not that story, it is the All New Adventures of Peter Pan. It is the next chapter, reimagined and brought to York Theatre Royal by Evolution Productions, written by Paul Hendy, produced by Emily Wood and Directed by Juliet Forster.
It tells the story of young Elizabeth (Faye Campbell), who is the daughter of Wendy (Francesca Benton-Stace), the original girl in the original story, now all grown up. Elizabeth has her head full of stories about Peter Pan and Neverland, yearns to be whisked away and given the chance to fly out of her bedroom window, she really believes that the tales are true. Her dreams are fulfilled with the appearance of Peter (Jason Battersby) and Tinkerbell (Maddie Moate). Off she flies, through the streets of London, to the mysterious Neverland and the adventure begins.
In the alternate reality that is Neverland, Elizabeth’s father is now the villainous Captain Hook (Paul Hawkyard). His key lackeys are panto dame, Mrs Smee (Robin Simpson) and Starkey (Jonny Weldon), the housekeeper and butler in the real world. This devious trio create havoc with only one thing in mind, the demise of Peter Pan, though Mrs Smee and Starkey are really not that evil, I might even say quite loveable really. Amongst the other characters are the Lost Girls and Boys, the mermaids, the pirates, and of course we can’t forget the crocodile.
Campbell, after her wonderful turn as Cinderella last year, is memorising as Elizabeth. She is a joy to watch, full of unbridled enthusiasm. I adored her duet with Battersby of the Take That song Rule the World, whilst they are flying through the air, I do love that song. Battersby is a wonderful dancer, and boy all that spinning whilst up in the air made me dizzy, I don’t know how he managed.
Our first introduction of Moate as Tinkerbell is when we see her flying though the air, magnificent in her green fairy costume and sparkly Converse hi-tops, with a massive infectious grin on her face. She is a wonderful performer, who can sing, and act and the young audience loved seeing the CBeebies star on the stage.
The trio of Hawkyard, Weldon and Simpson are just hilarious together. There was one scene with a boat that was pure pandemonium and had them, the audience and me roaring with laughter. Hawkyard really relished playing the panto bad guy and played it to a tee. Weldon is certainly sparky, a right cheeky chap and he was so good at engaging the audience. Once again Simpson was a fabulous dame, with numerous outlandish costumes changes, I lost count. Look out for Caroline Bond, you won’t be left dangling, all the suffering, in the name of panto.
Brenton-Stace, as well as playing the mother, doubles up as Myrtle the Mermaid. She is hilarious as the cockney speaking mermaid, with a dazzling voice. The ensemble, busy changing from Lost Girls and Boys, to pirates, to mermaids and were all fabulous, talented dancers, who utilised the space on the stage to the max. I must also mention the wonderful acrobats, The Black Diamonds, just wow. Fire and limbo dancing are involved.
The set was impressive, and the flying sequences were quite magical and beautiful to watch. The costumes were terrific, the icing on the cake was at the show’s finale, all the cast had changed into cream and gold costumes, it was visually stunning.
Billed at 2 hours 30 minutes, with interval, it ran about 15 minutes longer than that, it could have been shortened by condensing the introduction of the reworked story at the start. I thought that it might have been a struggle for the younger members of the audience, but that wasn’t the case.
This panto is full of cultural references, corny puns, really corny puns and energy. You honestly can’t stop yourself joining in and laughing along, it really gets you into the festive spirit. Suitable for all, from 5 to 95 years old. It is running until 2nd January, make sure you get your tickets whilst you can. You can now also buy tickets for next years panto, Jack and the Beanstalk, from the same team, with the wonderful Robin Simpson returning as the dame.