The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan at Edinburgh Festival Theatre – review

The Edinburgh panto, starring Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and Jordan Young, runs until 31 December

A scene from The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan
A scene from The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan, © Douglas Robertson

Never in all my years as a reviewer did I imagine I’d give a five-star review to a pantomime. After all, I grumble every year about how it’s not really my thing; good for an entry point into theatre for kids, but not really worth much more. Years of festive panto exposure must have steadily worn down my cynical carapace, however, because I thought The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan was a joy from start to finish.

It sure starts strong. Tink (not Tinkerbell) glides in gracefully from the flies and we’re treated to a high-quality animated fly-through as the cast belts out “Neverland”, the show’s strongest original song. Then the dame, an uproariously flamboyant Allan Stewart, arrives on a giant clam shell like some camp homage to Botticelli’s Venus. That sequence sets the bar high for production values, and the rest of the show doesn’t disappoint. It’s a Crossroads panto, so everything looks sumptuous. Sets and costumes are dolled up to the nines, colours are bright and sparkly, and there’s some terrific stage scenery, including a pièce de resistance crocodile at the end of act one.

But the real treat is watching a terrific central trio of performers giving their all to something they do extremely well. The Glasgow and Edinburgh pantos tend to feature the same team in their central roles every year, and this bunch have been excelling at this for ages. The outsized personality of Stewart’s Dame is as colourful as the many costumes he has to wear, and there’s a lovable nature to his banter that’s very winning. He also navigates skilfully the choppy waters of interacting with kids on stage, and sparks nicely off the mischievous joker of Jordan Young’s Smee. The real treat, however, comes from Grant Stott’s Captain Hook. He plays the character as a mix between a Restoration fop and an ineffectual bully, and he lays the ham on thick to get the right reaction from the crowd, affectionately shushing the audience when they boo him too enthusiastically.

There’s something wonderfully good-natured about their banter, and the sugar-coated gentleness of the whole thing is lightened by the fact that the script contains plenty of jokes for the adults (mostly involving smut). In fact, the adults often seemed to laugh more than the kids. The humour ranges from local football teams and Edinburgh suburbs to David Cameron and VAR, and it’s woven together through some skilfully shaped set-pieces, including a linguistic sequence where Captain Hook buys some boots, and a sequence with three mermaids that’s a lot funnier than it has any right to be.

It’s not perfect: some sequences are flat, including a random episode about a sick budgie, and the plot is as baggy as a pair of old tracksuit bottoms. But nobody with any sense goes to panto for dramatic integrity, and no less a dance troupe than Flawless elevate the whole thing by strutting their considerable stuff with jagged precision. In short, I had a blast; and if a cold-hearted sourpuss like me is saying that, then anybody else is bound to enjoy it.