It must be Christmas when a knight of the realm goes from Captain Hook to his most famous screen creation, the fastidious Belgium detective Hercules Poirot, to dancing to that late 90’s banger Tragedy. Yep, a year after Ian McKellen got back into his panto groove, fellow master actor David Suchet makes his own panto debut in Peter Pan at the Bristol Hippodrome.
There has always been a glint of mischievousness behind those eyes, that sense of playful exuberance that is the making of all great actors. So, it’s not surprising that he pulls off his debut with comfortable aplomb. He isn’t particularly challenged, there is a little one-two sword fight, he wraps his mellifluous vowels around a tongue twister routine, and he even breaks into a bit of song with a “Twelve Days of Shipwrecked” number that takes up a fair chunk of the second act (but just about earns it with a few surprise moments). Panto goes through trends and currently, it is great to see such alumni of the acting craft take their turn in delighting families at Yuletide. Next stop, Daniel Day Lewis’ Widow Twankey?
Suchet’s debut adds a star to what elsewhere is a very middling Crossroads-produced panto. Never known for its plots, this one almost ditches it altogether and has little time for the boy who never grows up, played by Hugo Rolland who can’t do much with a smile alone. Wendy and the Darling boys are spirited away to Neverland within seconds of the lights going up, Tink has betrayed Pan halfway through act one and Hook has been eaten by the croc all before the interval. This is not a show for those who like their narratives slow-burning. By act two, this isn’t a show for anyone who likes plots.
It may sound churlish to complain about the lack of narrative (after all, Beckett turned Godot into a play where nothing happens twice) in an art form that steers it around the variety type set pieces but the best still has a surprise or two up their sleeve in regards to storytelling momentum. This does not, but does possess its own aces in the form of Andy Ford (returning for his 11th Bristol Hippodrome panto) as Smee and Ceri Dupree as his mother, Mrs Smee.
Ford, a West Country institution, is a highly accomplished link man, from his little digs at Weston-Super-Mare and Taunton to his ‘right me babber’ patter, you know you are on safe ground. He may never reach the comic highs that I’ve seen the likes of Joe Pasquale hit, but the Bristol Hippodrome is his home-away-from-home and he resides like a king within. Dupree is more RuPaul than Danny La Rue in the glamour stakes, each costume a popping spectacle and the Cher routine offers a little more cheek than usually seen in a panto, though it feels like some of their natural cutting edge is tamed back in a family-friendly show that feels particularly safe.
The appearance of Steps icon Faye Tozer allows us to end with the group’s greatest hits megamix with Suchet looking like he is having a ball bopping away in the background. It’s nothing grand, but like the celebrated stage star himself, if you go with it, you can’t help but have a good time.