Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts have chosen J.M. Barrie’s enchanting Peter Pan as its first ever in-house produced pantomime, and this has turned out to be a smart move. The story of the boy who never grew up, the lost boys, pirates and red Indians, has everything to capture the imagination of a young audience, and encourages a cacophony of boos and jeers from almost the opening scene, when Mr Darling removes Nana (the dog!) from the nursery. Certainly, judging by the capacity audience on press night, the frenzy of excitement is reached very early on, and this production, at least, manages to sustain the momentum throughout.
After a bit of a shaky start, with a few rather dodgy chords, and performers (most of who have very good singing voices) seemingly struggling to work with the orchestra, the show finds its feet very quickly, as Peter, Tinkerbell, Wendy and her little brothers fly off to Neverland (in the first of several neat video projection effects and wire work, simulating their flight across the rooftops of London). Debra Stephenson, as Peter, shows what a versatile performer she is, in addition to a talented mimic, and has a whale of a time as principle boy, fearlessly flying around the stage and out over the audience. Natalie Bush, only in her second year at Arts Education Schools London, makes a delightful Wendy, has a fine singing voice and confident stage presence. Kate Weston (as Mrs Darling/Mermaid) and Sinead Kenny (Tiger Lily) also work well in smaller, but eye catching, roles, and there is a huge and talented cast of youngsters who fill the stage with lost boys and Indians.
CBBC’s Michaeal Absalom as Smee, teams up with David Barrett (who also choreographed the show) in an effective double-act, with plenty of physical comedy to delight the little-ones, as well as the usual cheeky humour aimed at the Mums and Dads. Supporting The Dingbats - a team of acrobatic pirates - their second half tumbling routine is a highlight of the show.
Gary Turner (Emmerdale, Hollyoaks) is a revelation as Captain Hook, and has clearly been studying at the Johnny Depp school of pirating! He is so obviously delighting in the evilness of the part that it is impossible, even for an adult, not to join in with the baying crowds every time he sets foot on the stage. A masterclass performance in panto pirating!
Adapted for the stage by Julian Woolford, there are plenty of laughs to be had for the grown-ups – although when you’ve seen more than one panto in a season, you can generally see these coming a mile off. Perhaps one too many ‘fairy’ jokes, especially delivered by the younger members of the cast, makes slightly uncomfortable viewing in these supposedly more enlightened times, but it is all good natured fun.
If you get a riotous audience of children out for a good time, and parents prepared to enter into the Christmas spirit, then this is a great festive night out for all the family.