With evenings being so cold, the economic market being so dismal and depression pretty much everywhere we turn, it’s always a joy and pleasure to turn to the warming comforts of make- believe for a little light relief on a winter’s night.
Entering into the glamorous splendour of pantomime is always a sure- fire way to get those Christmassy bums on seats and smiles on faces. But having experienced the sheer wonder of The Bristol Hippodrome’s Peter Pan , no amount of bank charges or gale force frock- splicers could remove the glow of the show for me this week.
As the formidably swashbuckling Captain Hook, David Hasselhoff brings his very own brand of Californian sunshine to the stage; beautifully offset by the hapless hilarity of Andy Ford’s deck hand, ‘Smee’. Robert Rees athletically embodies our title character Peter Pan, and Janine Esther Cowell heads a delightful supporting cast as Wendy.
Clearly the show’s casting reputation had preceded our visit this weekend, as the theatre was already packed to the gunnels upon our arrival 25 minutes before ‘curtain up’. One could be forgiven for fleetingly musing “recession? what recession?!” , watching everyone jostling excitedly for the best view their seat would allow. The tickets stand at around a hundred pounds for a family of four, but clearly our audience already thought it would be worth every penny .. and they weren’t wrong either!
From the first moments with rousing motown hits , ‘Knightrider’, ‘Baywatch’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ infusions aimed at The Hoff, the musical score and direction sets an early precedence of upbeat positivity for the show. In addition to the foot-stomping ‘Prologue’ intro, we’re treated to the delights of three motown ‘ divas’ in place of the traditional pantomime dame. Although something of a temporary shock to the system, the divas voices and costumes are so spectacular that one can’t help but warm to them immediately. Throughout the show, they effortlessly segue scenes with ‘ Do You Know the Way to Neverland’, ” Walk on By’ , ‘Think’ and a little ‘Lady Gaga’ towards the end of the night.
From a child’s perspective Peter Pan has it all. The storyline is adapted beautifully to honour the plot whilst allowing for the most extraordinary special effects throughout . The flight scenes over London provide such magical imagery from the set designers and ultimate professionalism from the actors that even the most hardened of internet babies would be amazed by the spectacle. Certainly, the row of ten -or so- children sitting around me were utterly mesmerised; which surely for any pantomime production team should spell ” JOB DONE” in fifty foot neon capitals.
Often in pantomime it is difficult to feel the right balance of performance against audience interaction; the right balance of comedy with tragedy and the finest tuning between entertainment and over-egging the pudding. However, the scriptwriter Eric Potts has managed, yet again, to provide the perfect balance of all elements. Despite having to produce no less than eight panto scripts for productions around the country this year, Eric has once more come up with the comedy- laiden goods. And that’s without the need for a single raised sausage joke in sight!
However, if the kids young or old – are looking for a bit of slapstick, Andy Ford provides all on a proverbially guilded plate. Complete with the most wonderfully colloquial song about pasties and pirates for all to join in with! Although the pairing of Andy Ford and David Hasselhoff would possibly set some heads scratching in any other context, for ‘Peter Pan’ it works. With Christmas bells on! Both have an infinite talent for comedy timing , both have enormous stage presence and a connection with the audience.
Overall, Peter Pan is one exceptional pantomime. At almost two and a half hours long, one would think it could easily dip in sections and fall into the temporary boredom trap. But due to the outstanding production levels, consistently bright performances and rip-roaring songs, this pantomime looks set to follow its leader from last year’s show as the top in the country for Christmas. It’s a corker! Ohhhh yes it is!!!
Peter Pan is showing at The Bristol Hippodrome from Dec 10th 2011- January 8th 2012. See http://www.pantoworld.co.uk/theatres/bristol-hippodrome/peter-pan.php for bookings.
© Tess Egerton 2011