The well-loved tale of Peter Pan, the little boy who never grew up, has been a panto favourite for many years and I was fortunate enough to watch RSC stalwart Brian Blessed give a booming performance as Captain Hook years ago in Northampton.
So I was looking forward to a night at Milton Keynes Theatre, where - along with Northampton’s Derngate - the classic novel has been put on to stage for the festive season.
It seems rather bizarre that two fairly close large towns should both be staging the same pantomime (albeit with a different cast) and it leads one to think people will be making a choice between the two, rather than going to see both as they may have done were different ones being shown at each venue.
This aside, with flashing props in hand and friend’s eight-year-old son in tow, we headed off with high hopes and expectations for the evening’s entertainment.
Adverts opened the show rather than a traditional orchestral run through of numbers, and we were then transported to the Darlings’ nursery, where Wendy and her two brothers, John and Michael, want bedtime stories from the panto-added character of Smee, played superbly by leading man Bradley Walsh, who used to be in Coronation Street and presents game show, The Chase. So far, so good, though the jokes about the nursery not having a roof wore rather thin after a while as did calling Nana the giant St Bernard dog, Spanner.
The flying entrances of Peter Pan and Tinkerbell were wonderful, though I don’t think asides in the script about being attached to wires to do those scenes were necessary and felt they took magic away from the make believe that panto should be.
Crowd-pleasers of the night were without shadow of a doubt, Flawless, as the Pirate Crew. This street dance group who found fame on 2009’s Britain’s Got Talent wowed the audience with their amazing back flips, spins and routines, and are certainly something to watch. Yet we lost count of how many dances they performed in the first half, and felt the panto was more about them than Peter Pan himself, who literally made a few fleeting appearances in the show.
By the interval, we were feeling somewhat disappointed by the night and that it hadn’t lived up to past pantomimes at Milton Keynes Theatre. It seemed more like a disjointed variety show than a panto with a series of sketches and many dances.
Thankfully, however, the second half exceeded our expectations and captured that whole “he’s behind you” and comedy elements which make panto such a uniquely British tradition.
Flawless rightly stole the show again with a superb routine, where their costumes lit up in neon, and Walsh was truly hilarious and a true master of improvisation in the very funny rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas. This already was much more like it.
Sets and costumes throughout the production were visually stunning and we all thought the children’s dancing and performing throughout the show as The Lost Boys and Indian girls were fabulous. And special mention has to go to actor Shane Knight, who not only had to double as a pirate and Indian, but wear what must have been incredibly heavy and hot costumes as Nana and the incredibly realistic Croc.
All in all, after a disappointing first half, the second half really turned round the panto and gave us the festive night we had been expecting.
Peter Pan runs until January 11 at Milton Keynes Theatre; box office 0844 871 7652; atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes