Like a mix between the Jolly Green Giant and GI Joe (with a long permed wig and Errol Flynn moustache) David Hasselhoff arrives singing into the aisles of the Bristol Hippodrome – I settle in for a slightly surreal evening. The former Baywatch actor is clearly the main focal point for this production of Peter Pan and as if to demonstrate the point the lady in front of me has a mask of the great man on her head and squeezes her partner’s arm excitedly at the arrival of The Hoff.
Yes Hasselhoff is clearly the show’s big draw but it would be unfair to let his sizable presence completely over-shadow the rest of the cast. Robert Rees in particular is excellent as Peter Pan and gives the role the right mix of boyish energy combined with slight petulance in his wish to never grow up. Janine Cowell nicely plays the put upon Wendy with the right amount of bossiness - reminding me at times of Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins.
The whole cast puts a lot of energy into the proceedings but the production doesn’t seem to completely gel – particularly in the first half. The opening scene in the nursery especially feels a little sluggish and it isn’t until Peter, Wendy and the children make their first flight over the streets of London that I begin to feel any sense of magic.
A major problem with the production is that it sometimes feels like four different shows thrown together; firstly there is the West End style re-telling of a classic tale in the mould of something like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, then there’s the Three Degrees-like soulful interludes - performed brilliantly by Donna Hines, Lakesha Cammock & Linda John-Pierre - but to me it feels like the characters have been transposed from something like Sister Act or The Blues Brothers. Also thrown into the mix is traditional panto fare largely carried by the enthusiastic Andy Ford, and finally there is ‘The Hoff Show’. Any of these elements on their own would work perfectly, but with all of them lumped together it makes it hard to settle comfortably into the story. There are, though, some cleverly staged set pieces; such as the final scene of the first half in the Indian Bluff with atmospherically choreographed dancing mixed with energetic fire twirling.
The second half is a lot more cohesive and David Hasselhoff’s performance of Hot Chocolate’s ‘Hot Stuff’ is probably worth the price of the ticket alone. Overall what makes The Hoff’s performance so watchable is his ability not to take himself too seriously and actually make it look like he’s having fun up on stage. There are some expected nods to Hasselhoff’s previous work on Baywatch and Knight Rider which doesn’t really work and I’d prefer - as he relaxes into the show’s run - that there is a little more ad-libbing and spontaneous interaction with the audience.
The show ends with the cast singing a medley of The Hoff’s hits and all-in-all it is an enjoyable - although slightly uneven – night of theatre.
Peter Pan plays at the Hippodrome until Sunday 8th January 2012