Richmond Theatre
Opened 10 December, 2008

One of three Peter Pans in First Family Entertainment’s empire of pantomimes across Britain this season, this is the all-too-familiar vapid, visually rich but invention-starved light entertainment broth that has so polluted notions of panto over the past couple of decades. Some moderately famous names, some gratuitous musical numbers Sellotaped on top of the story (I ask you: Captain Hook sprechgesanging Michael Jackson’s “Bad”?), an industrial approach to the product which loses all sensitivity to the story of the little boy who never grew up, the ethos of pantomime or any remotely conventional values of fun.
Bonnie Langford was born to play Peter Pan, but perhaps not for quite this long. At 44 years of age her thighs are beginning to thicken beyond optimum shape for filling a principal boy’s tights, and although she continues to cavort with inexhaustible energy, she at times seems more mumsy than Samantha Giffard’s Wendy, who has been cruelly forced into a frilly frock and mass of ringlets that make her resemble Langford aged 12 as Violet Elizabeth Bott in the TV series Just William rather than any surrogate mother for the Lost Boys of Neverland. Simon Callow would seem a fine fit for the role of Captain Hook, but his dedication sometimes skitters off the edge of the role so that what we see is not the pirate leader but an exuberant Simon Callow in a Restoration peruke. The production also features a CGI Tinkerbell (although the larger video projections suffered from horizontal lines whenever the orchestra blared), and the least canine, most bloke-in-a-costume Nana the dog I have ever seen. (The crocodile isn’t much better.)
All this simply makes the production weakish. The doomsday device is Tony Rudd as Hook’s sidekick Smee. Rudd is an end-of-the-pier comedian of the non-risqué type, all hollow bonhomie and out-of-date telly gags. During the second of his entirely unintegrated, excruciatingly prolonged Act Two front-curtain routines, I found myself so unable to bear any more of his drivel that I discreetly began listening to my iPod. As I left the theatre after the show (oh, how I wish it had been earlier), I thought I saw The Verve’s vocalist Richard Ashcroft. Well, the previous two and a half hours had been ample proof that indeed, the drugs don’t work.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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