'All New Adventures of Peter Pan' Pantomime Review, York Theatre Royal

11/12/2022

Juliette Barlow reviews YTR’s latest fun-filled, festive pantomime

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Image by Image Credit: Pamela Raith

By Juliette Barlow

Various adaptations of Peter Pan have taken place over the years, with the character first appearing in the novel The Little White Bird in 1902. The subsequent stage play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, was first performed at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1904. The story became popularised through the classic 1953 Walt Disney animation Peter Pan, whilst recent adaptations have included Spielberg’s 1991 film Hook, which focuses on the adult Peter Pan, as well as the 2003 live action film Peter Pan.

York Theatre Royal’s Pantomime, All New Adventures of Peter Pan, puts a fresh spin on the iconic tale, set several years after; this time it is not Wendy, but daughter Elizabeth, who joins the mischievous Pan to find adventure in Neverland. Although the plot was not the main focus of the pantomime, it was certainly entertaining and fast-paced. I was surprised to feel genuinely emotional at times, with Tinkerbell in particular having an uncanny ability to elicit sympathy from the audience. The storyline itself was broken up with a number of musical interludes, including ‘Revolting Children’ performed by Pan’s lost children at various points throughout the performance, as well as a parody of Taylor Swift’s ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ followed by an incredible mashup of ‘I’m Too Sexy’ (for my shirt)  and ‘Toxic.’

Protagonist Lizzie (Faye Campbell) was bright and bubbly, with endless energy and an incredibly rich singing voice. Her palpable chemistry with the titular Peter Pan (Jason Battersby) certainly carried the show, with Pan himself a talented performer. His adversary, Captain Hook (Paul Hawkyard), was everything you would expect; sassy, charming, evil. Always accompanied by the ‘boos’ of the audience, Hawkyard showcased his incredible stage presence, most notably through Hook’s main song, a parody of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’. It would be remiss not to mention the sparkling Tinkerbell (Maddie Moates), whose honey-sweet voice and effervescent personality proved her to be a fan favourite; it’s easy to see why the charismatic Moates is such a beloved children’s TV presenter.

However, the best character on the stage was undoubtedly Mrs Smee, played by Robin Simpson. Alongside side-kick Starkey (Jonny Weldon), she popped up in every scene wearing a different outlandish costume (my personal favourite being a ‘ducky bath time’ number) to provide comedic relief. Simpson and Weldon were both equally hilarious and had natural charisma, bouncing off each other to leave the audience in fits of laughter.

Throughout the performance, every opportunity for a joke was utilised, with even the stage production included; from moving the spotlight during Hook’s ‘dramatic soliloquy’ to Mrs Smee shouting offstage for the harness to be released. The dialogue, sprinkled with pop culture references and political jokes, felt refreshingly relevant.

If you’re not a fan of puns, this pantomime probably isn’t for you; five minutes was taken up by fish puns, and spoiler alert: a tardis was brought in just for the purpose of an elaborate joke. I, however, loved this. The self-awareness of the cast made it all the more entertaining; with Mrs Smee and Starkey often breaking the fourth wall to make the audience feel privy to an inside joke.

Another spectacular performance was the Mermaids’ ‘Rolling on a River’, where the mellifluous melody of mermaid Myrtle (Francesca Benton-Stace) was complemented by a diverse and action-packed dance routine by the ensemble. This, combined with the mesmerising set design and sparkly costumes, meant that the audience were often transported to Neverland itself. This was in part, due to the talent of the stage production team and ensemble cast, who intermittently showed up as either Pirates, Mermaids, Lost Children and Servants. Not simply background dancers, they were essential to the performance, filling the stage with their enthusiasm, musical harmonies and perfect choreography.

A notable mention also has to go to the acrobatic troupe ‘The Black Diamonds’, who were honestly phenomenal, superbly executing all manner of gymnastics and flips. Without spoiling the performance too much: let’s just say I didn’t expect anyone to limbo under a pole on literal fire on a cold Wednesday night in York.

What I loved most about the whole evening was the fact that you could genuinely tell the cast were having a good time. For me, the boat scene, where everything went minorly wrong, and Tinkerbell couldn’t stop laughing, was the most entertaining. The cast acknowledged these mishaps with off-the-cuff comedy and constant interaction with the audience, which only added to the merriment.

The whole performance felt uplifting and triumphant, most notably when Lizzie gave a speech to the audience about how she, as a woman, was in charge of her own destiny, and not reliant on Pan nor any other male saviour for help. Her and Tinkerbell were portrayed as such throughout; a refreshing change from the original damsel-in-distress tale. Although not revolutionary in itself, I was encouraged at how this might inspire all the young girls in the audience to strive for their goals in life.

Throughout the performance, all of the classic pantomime tropes were used, with the audience encouraged to participate from the start. It was heartwarming to see everyone from primary school children to grandparents shout ‘it’s behind you’ or calling for other characters to come on stage. By the end, I felt truly invigorated, and didn’t want the show, filled with its endless fun and endless puns, to come to a close.

If I didn’t believe in magic at the start of the performance, I certainly did by the end. For a few short hours, people of all ages were brought together, connected through laughter and tears. That, for me, truly is the magic of pantomime.