New Wimbledon Theatre, London SW19
Opened 16 December, 2010
Most pantomime stories are centuries old, virtual if not outright folk tales, and so offer generous latitude for adaptation. But Peter Pan was written as a play and remains in copyright (albeit through a statutory extension for charitable purposes), so rather more respect and discretion are required. Thus runs the theory, but not for Eric Potts. If Potts has heard of subtleties, he thinks they are things on the bottom of foreign films. That’s not a great joke, but it is parsecs ahead of any of his. He has turned J.M. Barrie’s creation into a loud, brash monstrosity flayed of any childlike wonder and instead a vehicle for stars that kids will either not have heard of or not understand.
David Hasselhoff as Captain Hook seems game for a laugh, but delivers every single line face-front with florid gestures as if in a cartoon of grand opera. In place of Hook’s henchman Smee, the pirate crew of the “Jolly Roger” is now augmented by Roger the cabin boy (thank you, Mr Potts), played by Louis (or Louie – the programme seems uncertain) Spence of TV’s Pineapple Dance Studios. In panto there is nothing like a dame, and indeed Spence is nothing like a dame, not even when he appears in gratuitous drag. Elsewhere in London there is an adult panto entitled Snow White And The Seven Poofs; all eight together could not possibly be as camp as Spence, nor as self-adoring. To accommodate him, the script inserts a series of dance numbers, a string of crass gay jokes (I was genuinely surprised he didn’t pop up during the “clap hands if you believe in fairies” routine) and a “Crew’s [or “Cruise”?] Cabaret”.
In order to make room for this tripe, cuts have been made, such as the characters of Mr & Mrs Darling. That’s right: the parents have vanished from this tale about the inevitability of growing up. With them go the final two scenes and any substantive ending, and also the bulk of the opening scene. Instead we get a trio of singing black housemaids, the Panettes. Peter Pan may be many things, but Ike Turner isn’t one of them. These chantoozies crop up repeatedly: as Indian squaws, as mermaids (in mid-air!) or simply asking whether we Know The Way To Neverland (instead of San Jose) or backing Wendy when she informs the Lost Boys that she Says A Little Prayer For them.
This show is an object example of what I call the Postmodernist Defence: “Yes, it’s rubbish, but we know it’s rubbish, and that makes it good and us clever.” No, it makes you contemptuous and contemptible for insulting us with what you know to be rubbish. I had to make my own entertainment, which I did by playing “spot the occasional line from the actual play”. For children, there is less than nothing, only the horror of watching their parents regress into complete whooping infantilism. Ian Talbot’s production isn’t cheap or shoddy as such (although Spence is far less talented a dancer than he believes himself to be); what it does, it does with brio. But what it does is to moronically travesty all aspects of the seasonal family show. It is everything that both Peter Pan and panto shouldn’t be.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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