Peter Pan is one of the best-loved children’s stories, and has always been perfect for pantomime, with its magical characters mixed with the everyday children of author J.M. Barrie’s Victorian England.
So what is producer Bonnie Lythgoe’s new Australian production of Peter Pan – or to give it its full title, The Adventures of Peter Pan and Tinkerbell – like? Does it cut the mustard or fall in a heap?
Judging by the reaction of one of the most diverse opening night audiences I have seen for many years, it’s a hit.
While music theatre needs triple threats (performers who are great singers, dancers and actors), accomplished pantomime performers need to be quadruple threats. They must be competent singers, dancers and actors, but need the extra skills gained from improvisation, stand up comedy or cabaret, because when you invite audience participation, you must respond to whatever you get!
And on opening night, the audience was a lively one, very happy to throw in comments at any stage of the proceedings, and a very impressive cast had no difficulty in serving it right back to the audience, adding to the hilarity of the show.
The story of Peter, the boy who never grew up, is presented in a fine larger than life form, with Peter and the three Darling children suspended up high and flying across the stage. While if you looked carefully, you could see the suspension ropes, the power of the acting meant that you simply ignored that and believed they were flying!
I did have a few minor quibbles with this production. Tim Maddren as Peter Pan is magnificent, with a stage charisma to die for. But why do the audio technicians not control his sound? Tim has a fine big voice but when it is over-amplified the way it was on opening night, it was a little too much on the ear. I must confess that most of the time the amplification was fine, but it seems that with Tim, they still have some adjustment to do.
This is a long show for children, starting at about 7.30 pm and ending around 10.15 pm, with a first act of nearly 90 minutes. The small children in front of me were mesmerized by the show, but by 9 pm they were fading and sadly didn’t return for the second half. If you have young children, perhaps pick a session with an earlier time.
There is a lot of very funny business throughout the show with the very camp pirates doing a long 12 days of Christmas song (12 days of sailing in this production), and it did seem to go on forever. However, it must be said that the audience loved the participation element of this song, and I might have been the only person who thought that less could have been more at this point.
But enough of my carping – I was delighted to see so many newcomers to theatre in the audience, and they all had such a good time that I’m sure they will return.
Performances get gold stars from me across the board. Tim Maddren was born to play Peter Pan and no doubt had most young females in the audiences sighing in admiration. Todd McKenney is a wicked delight as Captain Hook, and experienced English pantomime expert Kev Orkian brings the house down as Smee, who doubles as a kind of master of ceremonies. A breathtakingly good performance.
Katrina Retallick doubles as Mrs Darling and the very “Orstralian” Mimi the Magic Mermaid, and shows huge versatility and a fine singing voice. Her Mimi cracked me up constantly, and was an excellent contrast to her sophisticated sweet English mother character.
Robyn Loau as Tiger Lily was delightful and used her lovely voice to good effect. Naughty Tinkerbell was given some Cockney flair by Jaime Hadwen, and I was in awe of her ability on those roller skates. Young Ksenia Zofi was a sincere and affecting Wendy, and her young brothers John (Nicholas Cradock) and Michael (Eli Gracia) were natural and never twee.
The many jokes to please the adults definitely made this a PG rated pantomime rather than a G-rated one, but for that reason would be a good one to take the teenagers to, because this is an adult pantomime, rather than a kids’ one, but the many risqué jokes should go over the heads of very young children.
The flamboyant pirate quartet were a hoot, and while I felt that this show could have been quite a bit shorter, I have rarely seen a happier audience leaving a theatre, which is always the mark of a good show.