Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Peter Pan at the Bristol Hippodrome

Panto is changing. At least it is at the Bristol Hippodrome and, as the writer of Peter Pan is a man who has adapted no fewer than eight pantomimes in the UK this year, then this most certainly has the promise of the Ghost of Christmas Shows Yet to Come. Eric Potts, who delighted us in the flesh as Fairy Bowbells in last year’s production of the excellent Dick Whittington, brings a fresh, less traditional approach to an old family favourite.

This production of Peter Pan is certainly not as clich├ęd as many that have gone before: no panto dame and less innuendo, while a lack of invitation to scream “Behind you” or “Oh, no you didn’t” doesn’t necessarily mean less audience participation: after all, by now, we all know what to do. But it is undoubtedly sleeker and less camp than its predecessors.

The stage at the Hippodrome is vibrant and the costumes are a riot of colour. Hats off to Terry Parsons and his team who have really gone to town on detail – the set is beautiful. The sound is booming, the voices clear and the jokes understood. In short, the production is polished. Panto often allows for mistakes, a lot of bumbling and confusion: none of that here.

Our Panto Dame might be lacking but her replacement is excellent in The Three Divas, three very feminine, gorgeous women of soulful, strong voice, belting out numbers that we all know, including a medley of Christmas songs to open the show. And the posse of pirates, fun and crucial members of the crew, offer that camp element that we have come to expect at this time of year.

Bristol’s big name this year is David Hasselhoff, a solid and entertaining Captain Hook (how tall is that man?), who becomes a quivering wreck at the mere mention of Baywatch. He’s not as menacing as other panto villains but how could he be with that bunch of playful pirates behind him?

Andy Ford is the main stay of any Bristol pantomime and he never, ever, disappoints. Smee’s rapport with the audience is a pleasure to witness – the perfect fool and, once again, the star of the show for the adults. It’s hard to imagine a December Hipp without him.

The kids, of course, love the eponymous hero, played by Robert Rees, and every little girl adores Wendy, the ‘mother’ of the piece in Janine Esther Cowell – both roles are competently played, in an understated way. Along with her two brothers, Michael and John, Wendy leaves her London home with Peter, flying out of the bedroom window with impressive lighting by Tim Mascall. Their passage to Neverland is magical and wonderfully executed, so special mention must be given here to Flight Director, Karl Magee, and to Freedom Flying because this is this scene that will lodge itself into all of our children’s minds.

The Lost Boys and the Indians fill the stage, a mix of accomplished actors and young stars of tomorrow. Like the rest of the cast, they are professional and well-choreographed.

Is this, then, the future of Pantomine? That remains to be seen

Peter Pan runs at the Bristol Hippodrome until 8th January 2012

Review by Becky

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