Nicola Harvey and her family enjoy a night of magical adventure with Peter Pan at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon
Well, tonight I had three theatrical firsts. It was our first visit to the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon, my first experience of Peter Pan as a pantomime and the first time I’d heard the Twelve Days of Christmas with five custard pies instead of the traditional gold rings. I’d very happily repeat any of the three.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure quite how Peter Pan would work in panto format. There’s no obvious dame and the story has been told in so many different ways that I just couldn’t see it. However, gently and cleverly, this production moved from having the feel of a straight play at the beginning to full on panto slapstick, well known songs and all the shouting of “It’s behind you” and “Oh no it isn’t” you could possibly want.
The theatre itself is a great venue for a properly traditional panto. It’s small enough for the audience to feel genuinely involved (and to be gently sprinkled by the water pistols wherever your seat is), yet big enough to support a stage-filling cast.
That cast included Adam Woodyatt of Eastenders fame, who ably played a boo-inducing villain. The show stealer, however, was Antony Lawrence’s Smee. The show truly became panto for me when he took the stage and his physical and spoken comic timing was impeccable. He was supported beautifully by an ensemble of pirates and the slapstick song in the second half was an absolute and memorable joy. Equally memorable was the way Hook was defeated by the whole audience working together. I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you, but the musical director had to use an umbrella to avoid the missiles!
Peter was played sweetly by Ryan Anderson and he handled the flying very well indeed. I loved the lighting during the final flight that showed his unmistakable Pan silhouette. Abigail Matthew’s Tinkerbelle, meanwhile, moved perfectly from the traditional jealous fairy to part of the panto ensemble. In fact, I enjoyed all the performances and was particularly impressed by the younger members of the cast. They were, I’m told, auditioned from a wide range of schools in the local area and came together beautifully. The Lost Boys were particularly charming – I’d happily have taken a couple home if the Darling Family hadn’t had space!
Of course, a big part of the pleasure of panto is seeing children enjoying the show and I had plenty of sideways glances at my three that confirmed that they were loving it too. Whatever their age, and however cool they think they are, it didn’t take long before they were shouting out with the best of them. The level of inuendo in this panto was slightly gentler than others I’ve seen, and this just added to its charm. There were just enough moments to gasp but not so many that I had any ‘interesting’ conversations to prep for afterwards.
All in all, if you are looking for a traditional panto with laugh out loud comedy and exceptional levels of audience engagement and participation, my family and I would thoroughly recommend Peter Pan.