United Kingdom Peter Pan (adapted by Alan McHugh with additional material by Joe Pasquale and Matt Slack): Cliffs Pavilion, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, 12.12.2023. (JPr)
Co-directors – Joe Pasquale and James Desmond
Musical supervisor – Gary Hind
Musical director – Edward Court
Costume design – Teresa Nalton and Ron Briggs
Lighting design – Alex Marshall
Sound design – Tom Lishman
Choreography – Paul Domaine
Smee – Joe Pasquale
Captain Hook – Rob Rinder
Mrs Smee – David Robbins
Wendy Darling – Michelle Francis
Tinker Bell – Ciara Ford
Peter Pan – Morgan Jackson
The Darling Boys – Parker Pearson, Teddy Marsh
My history with J. M. Barrie’s timeless story is that as a child I went several times to the famous pantomime version put on annually at the Scala Theatre, in London’s Charlotte Street (off Tottenham Court Road) before it finally closed its doors in 1969. Barrie was a Scottish author and dramatist and his Peter Pan first appeared in 1902 in the book Little White Bird. Soon afterwards he wrote the play Peter Pan, which was a great success and on the back of its popularity, Barrie produced a children’s book, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (adapted from Little White Bird), then a full novel based on the play, entitled Peter and Wendy (1911). It is generally well-known that the adventures of Peter Pan were inspired by Barrie’s friendship with ‘the Davies boys’, the children of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, whom Barrie met while walking in Kensington Gardens and he subsequently named several of the characters after them. Barrie would keep them entertained with wildly imaginative stories that would later form the basis for Peter Pan’s adventures in Neverland.
If you know the story well, you might be a little sad that so few of the essential elements remain in place in this version. Yes, Tinker Bell sprinkles some pixie dust for the fairy tale Wendy tells her brothers, John and Michael, and Nana, their Newfoundland nurse, to become reality and for them all to fly to Neverland with Peter Pan to meet the Lost Boys. There they will meet the dastardly Captain Hook and the pirates of the Jolly Roger and – with some fights along the way – he will capture them all and they will escape; and then Captain Hook gets captured and escapes before a happy ending is engineered … and that’s about it. We do get a crocodile but there is no Mr and Mrs Darling, Tiger Lily, mermaids, or poisoned medicine and much else you could expect if you know your Peter Pan well.
It is impossible not to laugh at Joe Pasquale’s entrance as Smee, dressed in a superhero costume as Toilet Man and racing round the stage on a toilet with wheels and then squirting loo roll into the audience. The first joke is about having to go to hospital to have a mole taken off his back at which point Pasquale turns around … do I need to write more? Almost literally Peter Pan as you may have loved it before goes down the pan! Don’t forget Pasquale was the winner of the recent I’m A Celebrity – Masked Singer Special when he was in disguise as a wooden outside toilet named Dunny!
Speaking to presenter Sadie Nine on BBC Essex veteran entertainer Pasquale revealed how ‘What’s great about panto for me, you can stick me in any panto, I’m always playing the same character just different costumes. What’s great for me more than anything is that I don’t stick to the script.’ Many who have seen Pasquale in panto before will undoubtedly have already encountered Toilet Man and many of the well-honed comedy skits we got between the Cliffs(Pavilion)Notes of J. M. Barrie’s original story.
Pasquale’s high-octane performance as Smee (how does he manage to do it twice a day?) mostly plays directly to the children of all ages in the audience. There is plenty of audience participation too and even a song from him. It is all perfectly family friendly as long as you don’t mind all the fart jokes and occasional, harmless innuendo, such as ‘Every night I went to bed my mum would tuck me in, ‘cos she always wanted a little girl’ and the difference between snowmen and snowwomen being ‘Snowballs’. With a script he helped write and in a show he co-directs Joe Pasquale is seen at his childlike comic best.
David Robbins, as Mrs Smee, plays the perfect panto dame in a series of self-made wigs and extraordinary costumes, with the Barbie one being the most frightful, in a good way. Rob Rinder’s Captain Hook, pouts, poses, prims, and preens as a typical panto villain you love to boo.
By the end, the Peter Pan audience has every trope recognisable from pantos over the decades thrown at them: from some flying, cockadooling when Peter Pan comes on, ‘On yes, you will! / Oh no, you won’t!’, ‘Do you believe in fairies’ (to bring Tinker Bell back from the dead), the ‘I saw Shirley Shaw selling sushi in the sushi store’ tongue twister routine, the always hilarious comic song ‘If I was not in Neverland, a police officer I would be’ (with the sight of Pasquale in a ballerina’s tutu not easily forgotten), slapstick jokes, swordfights, ‘accidental’ slip-ups and a quartet of cute kids brought onto the stage.
After Captain Hook’s sob story – about once being a Lost Boy who annoyed Peter Pan by deserting his gang to look for his parents – brings about a reconciliation, Hook is ready to sail all the children home, ‘Where are my buccaneers?’ he cries, ‘On the side of your bucking head’ is Pasquale’s reply. Was that it for the panto? … Oh yes, it was!
The cast worked so very hard through all the comedy, songs and dances, and while Joe Pasquale, David Robbins and Rob Rinder led them, equally talented and appealing were Morgan Jackson (Peter Pan), Michelle Francis (Wendy), Ciara Ford (Tinker Bell) and the two Darling boys (Parker Pearson and Teddy Marsh). They were well-supported by a hardworking ensemble of eight and three offstage musicians.
All in all, it was great fun and opportunities like this to laugh out loud are something we need more of these days with the world being how it is at the moment. However, was it really Peter Pan? … ‘Oh no, it wasn’t!’; well at least for someone like me who is still trying to grow up.
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