Apparently it’s panto season again already. But ‘Peter Pan’s Labyrinth’ comes with a very definite twist. Comedy trio Sleeping Trees are celebrated for their family-focused annual mash-ups of well-known fairytales: next month their all-ages ‘Little Red Robin Hood’ opens at Battersea Arts Centre. But before that, they’re taking on the adult market: the show comes with a 16-plus age recommendation. With the considerable help of Dan Wye – aka famed drag queen Séayoncé – this is the story of Peter Pan, with a nice supply of cult ‘80s kids’ film ‘Labyrinth’ and a dash of Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ thrown in for good measure.
Here, Peter Pan is middle-aged, lonely, and struggling to keep down a job after being kicked out of Neverland. But after he finds an invitation to Tinkerbell and Captain Hook’s upcoming wedding he is determined to find a way back. With the help – well, more like hindrance – of his ‘omnipotent genie’, who bears an uncanny resemblance to David Bowie’s Goblin King from ‘Labyrinth’, he sets off on a quest to turn back time.
Much of the plot is nonsensical, but that doesn’t make the ride any less fun. To begin, Wye’s Bowie-alike instructs us to ‘switch on our imaginations’ by taking out pretend keys and snorting non-existing ketamine off them. And then we’re off: this is a seriously silly couple of hours, complete with reworked Bowie big hits, crass jokes and loveably low-budget props and costumes. On our way, we meet a motley crew of supporting characters that range from ‘regular perverts’ to a ‘Life on Mars?’ singing toilet and Kermit the Frog turned Prince – the singer Prince. With a grand set that fills The Vaults, and even includes an across-the-bar catwalk, we happily twist and turn to get a better view of the silly action.
Not all of the jokes come off – there’s some strange audience participation that involves two volunteers hooking an oversized lasagna hat, but mostly you can’t help but enjoy your visit to this world of lunacy. Puppets appear and then go again from the stage’s hidden crevices, there are constant new characters to meet, and old favourites’ returns are just around the corner. In fact, the remarkable amount of fast costume changes and voice switches deserves some serious recognition.
But on the night the glory goes to Wye. As Bowie he waltzes, knowingly, onto the stage in a jazzy silver body-fitting jumpsuit, red boots and a wig to match. And he knows the audience loves it – he takes time between his lines to snigger, before treating us to another sung number. ‘There’s a barman,’ we’re gleefully informed to the tune of ‘Starman’, that sells ‘spirits for a reasonable price…for London’, just before the interval. His Brummie-accented playing of Peter’s shadow is a quick but hilarious delight; visitor, we wish would stay for longer.
It only channels its source material in the jokiest possible way – don’t go expecting a pitch-perfect Del Toro homage – but it is a rollicking good time, a rudeness fuelled alternative festive treat