Milton Keynes Theatre
8 December 2008
No flash in the pan
Right. The first thing that I want to say before I start is that this is certainly not a bad production. It is slick, colourful and looks expensive. It has good voices, lively dance routines and some nice comedy. But it’s not a panto! It’s simply a family show taking place at Christmas. The second thing is that it stars Henry Winkler (aka The Fonz) and it is this that makes it all worthwhile!
What you need in a panto are the following elements. Good Fairy comes on from stage right, followed soon after by the villain stage left. Cue cheers and boos respectively, right from the start.
Then there’s an all singing all dancing village scene to set the story. The hero comes on, the comic comes on and then the dame, who appears in an ever more ludicrous costumes as the show goes on.
There’s a ghost scene and a slapstick scene with copious amounts of gunge. Then the hero gets the girl, the villain gets his come uppance and all’s right with the world. Cue big glitzy ending!
But Peter Pan is NOT a panto. It is actually very dark and, for a panto, there’s too much plot, so much so that some of the nuances of the original charming story are lost in trying to “panto it up”. For example the whole Tinkerbell poisoning / do you believe in fairies scenario takes seconds rather than bringing out the poignancy of the fairy’s jealousy throughout the show. And it takes a good 20 minutes for them all to get to Never Never Land in the first place, because we have to get through that tedious scene in the bedroom. As such, it takes an age before we can boo the villain Captain Hook.
And, while this production does all this admirably, for those expecting a traditional panto, it’s a bit of a let down, and to be honest, I got a bit bored at times.
Thankfully the presence of Henry Winkler as Captain Hook saves it, as you perk up whenever he appears. He is fantastic and, with great timing, knows how to work the audience. It is telling that the best part of the whole show is the few minutes when he “does the Fonz”. It is worth the ticket price along for those of an age who remember this iconic role. But the fact that this takes place in a short front of stage scene that has nothing to do with the actual plot speaks volumes for the suitability of the show as a pantomime.
I enjoyed Winkler’s performance so much that at the end I wanted him to win. I ended up cheering him not booing and would much rather have seen Peter Pan end up in the crocodile’s jaws. I mean, Louisa Lytton was a sweet Pan but she was just Louisa Lytton really, and I would have been more than happy for Hook to have been victorious.
There was of course the traditional sing-along near the end, led by Andy Ford’s hapless Smee, but this was followed by the end of the story back in the bedroom in London which brought everything down again.
In short, this is a big production which, if you treat it as a Christmas show, is absolutely fine but if you’re expecting a pantomime, then it is only Henry Winkler that will satisfy you.