JM BARRIE’S story of Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up, has a timeless and enduring appeal – perhaps not surprising when we have a Prime Minister who can’t resist saying he likes a glamorous TV cook in the middle of a trial when she’s a witness or taking a photograph of himself during a state funeral!
It is a popular Christmas show, and has been adapted for the stage in various ways from the out-and-out pantomime to a sometimes dark story of lonely children and escapism.
At Bath Theatre Royal this Christmas, UK Productions has taken a line closer to the family pantomime, but incorporating a bit of social comment and a nice twist.
Director (and irrepressible star) Chris Harris and writer Andrew Ryan have taken a few liberties with the story, probably so that Mr Harris can give his legendary back-by-popular-demand Dame performance in a show that doesn’t really have such a role.
The show is beautifully staged to match the chocolate-box theatre, and the flying (an essential element in the story) is some of the best ever.
It all starts as Governess Gertie, a Norland Nanny supreme, takes the Darling children back home. Daddy is a flustered businessman constantly awaiting the arrival of his wife from one of her “important suffragette meetings” and Gertie – Gov for short – is in charge of the children, ably aided by Nana the Dog.
The butler and general factotum is Mr Smee, who is actually Gertie’s son, but no-one in the Darling household is supposed to know!
No sooner does the nursery window close than the room lights up, and fairy Tinker Bell arrives, quickly followed by Peter Pan flying in through the window.
Then it’s off to Neverland for Wendy, John and Michael Darling, meeting Tiger Lily and her Indian braves, the villainous Captain Hook and his dubious piratical crew, the ticking crocodile and of course Peter’s gang, the Lost Boys.
Taking a leaf out of the Wizard of Oz book, in this version Gov and her naughty son turn up in Neverland as sort of guardians, in the form of Polly the Pirate and Smee the high-principled pirate.
And of course our heroic Peter foils Capt Hook at all turns, the audience saves the poisoned Tink, and the children get home before the night is out, with a new gang of kids for their caring parents to look after.
Television star Cliff Parisi makes his panto baddie debut as the flamboyant Hook, hitting just the right note between menace and comedy.
Jessica Punch, no mean tapper, is a terrifically dashing and loveable Peter and the experienced Joanna Forest leads the Darling children as Wendy.
Victoria Hay’s Tinker Bell is a joy, full of attitude on roller skates and illuminating the stage as brightly as her fairy spotlight.
The inclusion of comedy acrobats The Nitwits is an inspiration.
Once again Jon Monie and Chris Harris prove the value of their pantomime partnership, delighting all ages with their spontaneous gags and hilarious facial contortions.
This is one for all the family, in one of the country’s most delightful theatres at Christmas. It’s on until Sunday 12th January.
Photographs Freia Turland