Review: All New Adventures of Peter Pan at York Theatre Royal

Tuesday 6th December 2022 at York Theatre Royal.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ah, Peter Pan, how shall creatives adapt thee? Let us count the ways… In Paul Hendy’s take on J. M. Barrie’s well-known characters, we jump forward a generation and follow Wendy Darling’s spirited daughter, Elizabeth, who is positively bursting with excitement at the very *idea* that Peter Pan might just stop by tonight…

From there, we are on familiar ground; Elizabeth as a mother figure to the Lost Boys; rivalry between Tinkerbell and the new lass in Pan’s life; Hook after Pan, Croc after Hook and Smee somewhere in the mix causing trouble. With such familiarity and a slightly new angle side by side, this show should keep both loyal fans and those who have seen the story many times happy.

Faye Campbell returns to the York panto scene with the same energy and exuberant engagement with the young audience as last year – almost as if she was unboxed and sprinkled with fresh fairy dust just last week… Francesca Benton-Stace plays brings great warmth to the role of Wendy Darling and then switches over to comical hysteria as Myrtle, the cawing Janice of Neverland.

Maddie Moat’s Tinkerbell is both naughty and nice, replacing rivalry with good old fashioned girl power in some strong updated messaging. And speaking of girl power, it’s Mrs Smee this year, allowing Robin Simpson to shine in the Dame role once more. Jonny Weldon provides much fun as Starkey, something of a fab side-kick for Mrs Smee and together they create merry chaos, much to the delight of little ones.

Paul Hawkyard’s Hook is a real highlight. He’s brilliantly villainous with his growled declarations of irritation and he has a particularly strong villain cackle, it has to be said – ask any of the VERY enthusiastically OUTRAGED youngsters in attendance at this performance! As with Wendy and Peter Pan, this adaptation favours a female perspective over Peter Pan’s, but Jason Battersby gives a very classic rendition of the youthful mischief-maker who will absolutely *not* grow up, thank you very much.

A surprising addition is the arrival of acrobatic troupe, The Black Diamonds (Teddy, Muba and Mohamed) who offer some fantastic spectacle – pirates do have a tendency to precariously balance on each other’s shoulders in their down time don’tcha know. And the ensemble bring lots of enthusiasm to the flurries of activity demanded by Hayley Del Harrison’s choreography.

There are times when tangents could do with some pseudo relevance being shoe-horned in, but this is panto and director Juliet Forster quite rightly favours entertainment over a neat narrative. Truly terrible dad jokes and gleeful delivery of naff puns abound and there’s an awful lot of charm to be found in a cast like this which takes every minor slip-up and turns it into endearing comedy fodder. Who doesn’t love seeing actors break character and poke fun at each other? It’s probably my absolute favourite thing about panto season and Hawkyard, Simpson and Weldon give us some great laughs in the face of hiccups.

And as for the magic of live theatre? Well, it’s Neverland, so there is of course flying and fairy dust to enjoy alongside all the singing and dancing. Alexandra Stafford’s lighting provides the magic for the flying sequences and set design from Helga Wood, Michelle Marden and Stuart Relph provides some great backdrops from across Neverland (pirate ship, Pan’s hideout, the mermaid’s cove) and costume designs (Wood, Ella Haines, Amy Chamberlain, Michael J Batchelor, Joey Arthurs…phew!) bring comedy and fabulous theatricality to the likes of Hook and Mrs Smee.

All New Adventures of Peter Pan is very good family fun. It feels too familiar to feel “all new” but the revisions to the tale work well. Most importantly of all, the affection for both Barrie’s original and the world of panto is written all over this and it’s a great way to spend a few hours!

All New Adventures of Peter Pan is at York Theatre Royal until January 2nd 2023 – you can find more information and tickets here.

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