The Altrincham Garrick Playhouse pantomime is more than an annual festive tradition. It’s a treasured part of the local community. After a year away, thanks to one thing and another, it’s so gratifying to see packed houses of families once again enjoying an ambitious and joyful show.
There are very few surprises here. The Darling children are growing up fast, while their distant father is increasingly frustrated with the ‘poppycock’ fairy tales filling their heads. It’s to be Wendy’s last night in the nursery.
What Mr and Mrs Darling don’t know of course (the grown-ups always forget) is that the magic is real. Peter Pan’s shadow is hiding in the toy box and our hero wants it back. So begins an awfully big adventure to Neverland and back.
Writer Tom Whalley has penned a largely faithful retelling of J. M. Barrie’s classic tale – for panto at least – with enough Disney, Wicked and Spielberg’s Hook influences to keep modern audiences very happy. There’s laudingly economic storytelling here too. No line feels wasted and no song feels like filler. That being said, there were probably a couple too many scenes and numbers for the younger audience members.
Aside from a couple of Ryanair and Claims Direct jokes, and a hilarious government Christmas party adlib, the show is full to the brim with traditional dad jokes. Be prepared to both laugh and groan.
The performances are also traditional, with a twist, and pretty much all fantastic. Mason Lockwood as the eponymous star strikes the right balance between handsome hero and childlike charm. Plus, he can sing Queen pretty well at the same time as performing aerial acrobatics above the stage.
It’s fabulous to see Lottie Warburton’s Tinkerbell sprinkled with a good dose of female sass as well as the requisite fairy dust. Like many of the cast, Warburton has a stunning singing voice too. Bill Platt was born to play a dame and deliver those rather risqué ripostes.
There are also some laugh out loud moments for the ensemble as pirates and mermaids. The kids are predictably and enjoyingly cute.
However, the show really comes alive when Dan Ellis’s Smee bounds onto stage with pink hair and rainbow Converse trainers. You can just tell the kids fall in love instantly. His energy, humour and ability to be alive in the moment – rather than just delivering the script – is exactly what you want from panto, and he fully deserves his huge cheer at the curtain call.
Regular audiences will know the Garrick panto often punches above its weight in terms of technical ability. They’ve done it again. Peter Pan flies so effortlessly you could hear kids gasp ‘how is he doing that?’. Mission accomplished.
From a truly beautiful glitterball light sequence to countless gorgeous sets and a glow in the dark under the sea number, the ambition is incredibly impressive. Too ambitious? Perhaps. A few scene changes felt a little long, but it’s surely better to aim high than play safe.
Making panto attractive for a younger audience, whilst not tinkering too much with the elements that parents and grandparents remember, is no easy task. This production largely pulls off the trick. Daft dances, puns and audience participation are balanced with Matilda covers, Marvel references and TikTok routines. It’s a bit of a shame, therefore, to find a couple of misjudged fairy and sissy jokes still make the cut in 2021.
All children, except one, grow up but no one is ever too old to enjoy such a warm, professional and fun show. Especially one that is so important for the community and the future of this great theatre.
Peter Pan continues at the Altrincham Garrick until the 3rd January 2022 https://www.altrinchamgarrick.co.uk/shows/peter-pan/
Reviewer: Peter Ruddick
Reviewed: 10th December 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★