New Wimbledon Theatre's annual Yuletide blowout is as cheerfully ridiculous as ever
The New Wimbledon Theatre’s annual yuletide offering is a ruthlessly calculated crowd pleaser: big, brash and packed with the starriest B-listers that money can buy. ‘Peter Pan’ boasts turns from comedians Marcus Brigstocke and the festively named Jarred Christmas, while Verne Troyer (best known as Dr Evil’s sidekick Mini Me in time-travelling camp-fes t‘Austin Powers’) tops the bill as Lofty, an ironically named pirate.
From the grandiose, ‘X-Factor’ style opening countdown to the pyrotechnics and boisterous ‘behind you’s, ‘Peter Pan’ is a traditional panto on steroids. Big, slickly executed musical numbers - including the obligatory prance through ‘Uptown Funk’ - are interspersed with surreal set pieces like Troyer lip-syncing his way through Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies.’ TV dance troupe Flawless put in a commendable performance as a swaggering, street-dancing pirate crew, but Brigstocke’s gleefully venomous Hook is the real star of the show. Boasting a luxuriant wig that’s reminiscent of Laurence Llewellyn Bowen, his rip-roaring schtick involves bitchy asides and snarky references to everything from PPI insurance to Cameron’s ‘pig-gate’.
As Hook’s endearingly dim-witted sidekick Smee, Jarred Christmas puts his stand-up skills to good use - his sharp back-and-forth with the audience helps glue the production together. But while the odd pop culture reference and dodgy innuendo will keep parents chuckling, the production stays too close to JM Barrie’s original tale. Wendy, a simpering damsel in a nightie, is an unconvincing heroine, although Francesca Mills’ delightfully bratty Tinkerbell (who alternately charms and menaces the cast and the audience) helps atone for this yawn-inducing characterisation. Troyer also poses a bit of a problem: however cheerily he plays up to the punch lines, the script’s height-related punning provokes awkward, uneasy laughter.
Despite the odd wobble, though, this is an energetic, likeable and solid panto-by-numbers, with slapstick and silliness for pint-sized theatre-goers and just enough bite to keep the grown-ups on their toes.
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