Until January 7, 2018
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CBEEBIES superstar Justin Fletcher – aka Mr Tumble – has signed up with the good ship Hexagon Theatre for Peter Pan, a rip-roaring adventure in Neverland this Christmas.
And accompanying him on the journey, once again, is the nation’s favourite dame Paul Morse.
Together with their crew mates, they have fashioned another smash-hit this Christmas for Reading’s theatre.
Created for The Hexagon by Imagine Theatre – as they have been doing since 2010 – it has just the perfect blend of slapstick, slosh, songs and surprises ensuring a memorable night out.
From the opening moments, set in the bedroom of the Darling family, to the all-singing, all-dancing finale, this is another classic show that will have you hooked.
And, judging from the full house on the opening night, the audience were lapping it up. They were laughing, clapping, cheering, booing and behind you-ing from beginning to the end: the packed theatre was full of people with beaming smiles on their faces.
Peter Pan is one of the more unusual pantomimes and the most modern: it’s not based on a fairy tale but on J M Barrie’s famous story. Rather than seeing a Prince Charming on a quest, the show follows the little boy who never grew up, lost his shadow, likes flying and has a nemesis by the name of Captain Hook.
It’s a terrific adventure, very much of its time, that would once have made perfect fodder for the adventure strips in The Beano and The Dandy. As a pantomime, it works brilliantly as the action is fused with songs and the jokes.
Imagine know all the right panto tropes and they’re all present and correct here: each of the main cast members gets their solo moment of glory as they’re introduced Paul Morse – as Nanny McSmee – is hilarious and brings the house down with his gags and ad libs, and Justin’s big entrance is possibly his best yet: He got a huge cheer from the audience as he arrived. Like Paul, he had the audience eating out of his hand, as his Smee got big laughs.
The pair work so well together, spurring each other on to greater comedy heights and, after five years, there is a comfortable rapport between them. Long may this partnership continue.
David J Higgins, who played the Beast in 2012’s Beauty and the Beast, returns as Captain Hook. Looking just as you’d expect, he relishes in the villainy and has a commanding presence.
Kieran Morris is flying high as Peter Pan, capturing his impishness with a terrific grin.
Tinker Bell is a mimed role and here Becky Burford excels: making acrobatic gestures and darting gracefully around the stage.
Kate Eaves is Wendy and has an amazing voice and great stage presence. Her bright grin lights up the stage.
Jenny Phillips is Tiger Lily and Mrs Darling, capturing the ethos of both characters with aplomb.
The ensemble dancers are brilliant and it’s pleasing to see some return including Dan Westwood, who is a huge talent. All five of them are amazing in their various routines, and slip between roles with ease. The panto would be a poorer presence without them and the junior chorus, all young actors from local theatre and dance schools, again superbly choreographed by Adrian Edmeades.
The direction is slick, the many sets superb and the music, from a live orchestra, is carefully and sensitively performed.
Special mention must go to the lighting team who do a stirling job, from creating Tinkerbell to the disco inferno at the very end. It’s an unsung role of the pantomime but makes all the difference.
There is much to commend: the costumes (especially Paul’s, who gets a different one every scene, as tradition dictates) are brilliant, the jokes get big laughs, the flying scenes are well done.
And panto purists will be pleased that all the set pieces including the messy kitchen scene are all in Peter Pan. It would be nice to have some variations though: some skits and reactions are in danger of becoming part of the furniture. While the laughs they bring justify their inclusion, it feels like repetition to have the 12 Days of Christmas two years running, however hilarious it is.
That is nitpicking though. The biggest praise is this: the little ones in the audience sit in their parents’ lap, entranced, enraptured and engrossed in all the fun.
Peter Pan flies high and a must-see festive treat. It’s a feel good show that gets the whole family laughing and laughing and laughing.
And the final page of this year’s pantomime programme reveals some exciting news: next year Imagine Theatre will be back with a new take on Aladdin, which they previously performed in 2011. Justin Fletcher will return to the role of Wishee Washee. We hope Paul Morse will be Widow Twankey and Dan Westwood’s ensemble team will also be signed up.