Ian Waller and his family enjoy a family tradition with a trip to the Theatre Royal panto. Photographs by Freia Turland
Hooray, the pantomime is back in town and all the signs promised it would be a cracker. A perfect venue at the Theatre Royal – check; a great cast with regular funny man Jon Monie at the helm – check; a classic story in the tale of Peter Pan – check.
And largely it delivered. My family and I love the Theatre Royal and have enjoyed a whole series of cracking pantomimes there over the years. OK, some inevitably have been better than others, but we’ve always come away happy and repeating our favourite one-liners on the journey home.
As for Peter Pan, of course we all know the story of the little boy who refused to grow up, his adventures in Neverland and the evil Captain John Hook. And where this production worked, it worked so well. Pantomimes are, of course, a great excuse to wheel out a whole series of traditions and classic clichés that the audience love and the performers deliver with suitably over the top aplomb.
Throughout this production, the cast as a whole did the job superbly. Jon Monie once again excelled, this time in the part of Smee, Captain Hook’s comical henchman. No, he’s not much of a singer or dancer, but he is very funny and times his delivery superbly, making it all look very easy in the process. Which jokes were the best you ask? Well I loved ‘I was raised with four sisters, all who went on to become drummers – Anna 1, Anna 2, Anna 3, Anna 4.’
With no dame in Peter Pan, the foil for much of Monie’s silliness was 70s pop star, sitcom actor and theatrical regular Paul Nicholas as Hook, who played the role, both as pirate leader and Monie foil, with experience and not a little panache. Best of all though was that Nicholas really appeared to be enjoying the part, wallowing in the boos from the audience, clearly taking delight in soaking audience members with a water pistol and generally making the most of every thigh slap and evil glare.
Indeed, overall the cast was very good, with Tim Edwards as Peter Pan superbly energetic and full of fun, Rachel Grundy’s Tinkerbell suitably cheeky mixed with a dash of annoyed teenager, and Danielle Black as Tiger Lily clearly a star in the making. But – and yes there is a but – for those moments when Monie and Nicholas were not on stage, the script just wasn’t sharp enough to keep the laughs coming. The cast tried, the scenery was perfect and the plot loyal to the story, but somehow there were moments when the action laboured and the momento faltered.
There were also one or two scenes that were just a little overlong, including the opening at the Darling’s house and the tumbling gymnastics by the otherwise very funny pirate crew, the Nitwits.
When everything did click, the panto joy shone. Smee’s hilarious version of a This Is Me – changed to This Is Smee – from The Greatest Showman, was a highlight, while the inevitable jokes at the expense of Brexit and Donald Trump were ideal panto material. Around me, the very young audience members were loving it, suitably unaware of the more adult-themed one-liners that always sneak their way into a panto. It was just a pity about the moments when the script was too flat, allowing the fun and energy to dissipate.
Overall, yes, we enjoyed our family Christmas tradition of a night at the Theatre Royal pantomime, and what a wonderful tradition the pantomime remains.
Peter Pan at the Theatre Royal runs until 13 January 2019. Tickets are available at www.theatreroyal.org.uk