It’s that time of year again, as the Panto comes to The Playhouse in Weston-super-Mare. This year’s tale is Peter Pan, and is also the first time that the yearly pantomime has been an in-house production, with Mark Thompson and Martin Cleverly producing the show. We are transported to Neverland, where Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up, battles his arch enemy Captain Hook, with Wendy, Micheal, John, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys and the Pirates along for the ride. I’m pleased to report that this show had all the usual ingredients we have come to expect from Panto, with glitz, innuendo, audience participation, dancing, men dressed as women and terrible gags that you can’t help but titter at.
Dean Gaffney and Gemma Bissix, both ex-Eastenders stock, provided the star turns in this year’s Panto. I can’t say I am a massive fan of Gaffney so wasn’t expecting his performance to grab me. However, he proved to be a really quite likeable villain who had the audience booing and jeering with gusto, and who acted with good comic timing alongside Steve Bennett, our Panto Dame Mrs. Smee. When I asked my five-year-old daughter who her favourite character was, she confidently replied ‘Captain Cook’, although when pressed on why this was, she could only giggle and say it was because of the bit where he wiggled his bottom. Gemma Bissix was a fine sidekick, playing Mrs. Darling, Chief Squatting Cow and Mermaid Mia. For me, I thought she also stole the show with her performance of ‘Strong, handsome man’ as Mermaid Mia, showing off her singing talent and catching the attention of the dads in the audience in her skimpy costume. Steve Bennett provided our panto dame for the evening, and was everything that a dame should be, saucy, flirty and just a little bit rude. My one critique here would be that I would have liked the costume designers to have been much more flamboyant with the costumes for Mrs. Smee. In previous pantos, I have been left giggling at the sheer silliness and extravagance of the dame’s costumes, but here they were perhaps a little lacking. It didn’t take away from Bennett’s performance though, as he was funny and charismatic.
The supporting cast proved to be superb, and was the backbone of the show. Jordan Fox was a handsome, graceful and perfect Peter Pan, and Sophie Adams was Wendy off to a tee. Both had lovely singing voices, and the beautifully choreographed flying scenes were stunning. Clever use of video imagery projected onto large screens really made the two look they were whizzing over London and then up into the stars, and was wonderful to watch. The supporting dancers were fantastic, and it was great to see some potential stars of the future from the Tina Counsell and Carlea theatre arts dance schools, both local to Weston.
Overall, this show was much more of a traditional panto than last year’s offering featuring George Samson, where much of the action was tailored to showcase his dancing skills. This was no bad thing, because although I felt it took the audience a little bit longer to warm up this year, I preferred the way this production flowed and it seemed a little bit more rounded. By the second half, the audience was nicely warmed up and everyone was joining in with the action. Maybe that was because some of the adults had a little bit of lubrication at the bar during the interval, but the auditorium was drowning in shouts of ‘He’s behind you!’ and “it’s a ghost… A GHHOOOOSSSSTTT!!’ as adult and children’s inhibition alike vanished.
Some may say that the Bristol Hippodrome Panto is the one to see this year after their coup of getting Pudsey and Ashley; ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ winners as their star turn this year. Well, I’m pleased to report that Bristol is NOT the only local panto that can boast of a dancing dog…
Silly, sweet, funny and a treat for all the family, ‘Peter Pan’ is on a The Playhouse in Weston-super-Mare until January 4th 2015.