As is our usual practice, Mrs Chrisparkle and I spent a few days in London between Christmas and New Year to do some shopping in the sales, have some nice post-Christmas meals out, and – see some shows! Our first choice might seem a little unusual, but bear in mind three things: 1) Mrs C had never been to the beautiful Richmond Theatre before ; 2) ever since A Chorus Line I’ve followed the career of Harry Francis with great interest and 3) we couldn’t resist the prospect of seeing Robert Lindsay as Captain Hook.
It can be difficult to know quite where to pitch a panto. Do you do it purely for girls and boys (Oh no you don’t) or do you do it purely for the mums and dads (can get awkward with the more curious kids) or do you somehow pitch it between the two? This panto was definitely pitched primarily at the kids with a few nuances chucked in for the adults. A very different kettle of fish from Snow White at the London Palladium which we were to see a couple of days later!
No sooner does the curtain rise than we see a very adventurous and clean-cut young Peter Pan, played by Harry Francis, breaking and entering his way into the Darling household, as is his wont. Vikki Bebb’s Wendy is a very maternal young thing who’s willing to get into a few scrapes, but not too many because that wouldn’t be sufficiently responsible for her position in the family. Later on, when she wonders more and more whether she has a chance of romance with Peter, it goes right over his head; typical of a boy who never grows up. Mr Francis is on tremendous form, showing us some fantastic pirouettes as only he can, galvanising the audience into childlike excitement, and creating a very likeable and brave hero at the centre of all the action.
Whereas we’d all like to have Peter Pan as our friend, it’s much more likely that we’d end up with Smee instead; a fast and funny performance by Jon Clegg, with some clever impressions and great interaction with the audience. It’s true, we did all want to be in his gang. Such a shame that front-row Georgie never got to kiss his bum (you had to be there).
Isobel Hathaway is a spirited Tinkerbell who, appropriately, knows her own mind but also needs rescuing from time to time. Keisha Marina Atwell sings beautifully as Tiger Lily, although unfortunately the script doesn’t give her a lot to do. I also wished Rachel Stanley’s Mimi (The Magical Mermaid) had more involvement in the plot, because she’s a right funny lass who brightens up the stage whenever she’s on. Giving great support there’s also an incredibly good-looking young ensemble who sing and dance their way into our affections as well as creating a lot of nice comic moments too.
But it was Robert Lindsay whom we were all excited to see, in his panto debut; he clearly loves every minute of it, and his enjoyment transfers across to us in the audience with ease. He’s always been one of the best song and dance men in the business, so it’s rewarding to see him borrowing his Oliver and Me and My Girl appearances in renditions of You’ve Got to Pick a Pirate or Two, Doing the Pirate Walk (Oi) and – best of all, and which the audience really joined in with – Reviewing The Situation. We were grateful when he likened the young actor playing Michael to Jacob Rees-Mogg because he was only saying what we were all thinking. And he must be due some sort of acting award for looking so terrified as he was about to be gobbled up by what must be the fluffiest, cuddliest looking crocodile that stage engineering has ever created; they must have put the word out that it shouldn’t be too scary.
My only criticism of the production is that perennial problem of amplification. From where we sat in row E of the stalls the sound was hugely over-amplified, enough to make your ears crackle and make everything sound tinny. Can I suggest every sound engineer in the country to go and see Hamilton to find out how it should be done? Nevertheless, it was still a very enjoyable show and perfect for a family night out. It’s on until Sunday 6th January and I guarantee a good time!
P. S. You never know what will happen at a panto, particularly when you involve children. The most delightful moment came when Smee got four children out of the audience for the Old MacDonald sing-song. Having chatted and sung with them all, they played the old trick of only having three bags of gifts for four children, so as to create that moment of tension/sympathy/injustice, however you like to react to it. But no one was expecting the first boy instantly to give his bag to the second boy because he didn’t want his friend to miss out. A heart-warming lesson of true generosity for these grim times!