Stagey razzmatazz? Check. Indoor fireworks? Check. It’s totally acceptable to shout your head off in a theatre? Check. It must be panto season. If you’re not convinced panto is your thing, here’s a litmus test. What’s the difference between people in Dubai and people in Abu Dhabi? People in Dubai don't like the Flintstones but people in Abu Dhabi doooooo! Yes? Ok, read on.
This year’s Theatre Royal Panto - Peter Pan - is a lavish, highly enjoyable telling of the classic JM Barrie tale of a developmentally arrested flying boy with mummy issues. It’s got Saturday night TV production values, a great live band, all-singing all-dancing musical numbers and a judicious sprinkling of ribald humour from comic veteran Joe Pasquale, all combining to create a highly enjoyable night out. As cliched as it sounds, it serves up something for all ages.
John Challis, for many indelibly inked in the memory as Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, is suitably nefarious and boo-worthy as the herpetophobic Captain Hook. That petulant, pouty fairy Tinker Bell is played with great gusto by Lucy Evans, and Jack McNeill gives a thigh-slapping performance as the titular hero Peter. In fact, the multitalented cast all bring joyous, high energy performances and keep the show zipping along nicely.
We get all the customary panto fayre. We get schmaltz, we get lavish sets, we get to join in, but this production also gives us some hair-raising moments of genuine terror. Terrifying if you’re of primary school age, judging by the chorus of shrieks when a monumentally huge crocodile closed the first half. And it sounded like a Beatles concert circa 1965 when an eye-popping underwater 3D sequence in the second-half delivered theme park level thrills and surprises, although I’d recommend the under 5s look away for that bit.
Joe Pasquale, as the benevolent Mr Smee (more Buttons than buccaneer), brought a wonderful air of anarchy to proceedings. The rest of the cast’s cracking performances notwithstanding, Joe stole the show. Watching him careening off script, manhandling his cast mates and generally trying his squeaky darnedest to make them corpse, were perhaps the most entertaining bits. A supremely silly, break-neck routine based on the 12 Days of Christmas was a highlight. And the barrage of gags were pleasingly daft, with enough innuendo, slapstick and cheek to please even the most curmudgeonly dragged-along-dad.
There’s something quite special about how a good panto can entertain an auditorium of folk aged 4 to 104. And this is a marvellous panto. So, unless you’re under 3 or over 105, I think you’d really enjoy Peter Pan. You’ve got until 13 January.
Peter Pan plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until January 13 2019.