Playing a straight role in panto can be a thankless task, and the programme cover and posters for this year’s festive offering from the Liverpool Empire make it clear where the production’s priorities lie.
There’s no sign of Peter Pan or Tinkerbell on the marketing; they lose top billing to Benidorm’s Tony Maudsley who plays hapless pirate/hairdresser Cutless Kenneth, and don’t even make it into fourth or fifth place thanks to Scouse panto comedy favourite John Evans (Smee), a Brookside veteran (Louis Emerick as Hook), another bloke from Benidorm and a superfluous magical mermaid. It was little surprise, therefore, that the limited narrative sections of this two-hour show felt somewhat underwhelming compared with some genuinely funny comic scenes that featured the cast’s bigger guns.
Adam McCoy put in a valiant shift as Peter, and did at least have the consolation of being able to fly around the stage on wires at regular intervals. Cristina Hoey was winsome enough as Wendy. But the fights with pirates felt under-powered while Georgie Ashford’s spiky interpretation of Tinkerbell came across more bitchy than feisty and was a mildly depressing – if one is going to attempt to overlay modern gender politics onto a mainstream panto – vision of women competing unnecessarily with other women for male attention.
Speaking of gender politics, it is all very well to rename the Lost Boys as Lost Children but when your female Neverlanders are virtually naked save for their sparkly bras and dance like they’re in a bad pop video, the equality message is somewhat undermined. That’s all a tad Bah Humbug, I realise. If we can all agree to leave our Guardian subscriptions at the door, there is plenty to enjoy in this whopper of a production from Qdos Entertainment, who make pantos on an industrial scale.
The children around us were in stitches during a rendition of Everything I Do, which involved characters shoving each other off a wall as they sang, and chuckled heartily at the inevitable scene involving confusion over names, in this case pirates called Himm, Watt and so on. The sets were impressive, the costumes lavish, particularly during an inexplicable underwater section at the start of act two involving a giant octopus and numerous humanoid fish. An enormous crocodile puppet at the end of the first half was spectacular, though sadly under-used (I was expecting a re-appearance at the end), and there was plenty of low-level smut if that’s your thing. The audience went away smiling into a cold Liverpool evening. Hopefully the Neverlanders brought their coats for the trip home.
Photos by Mark McNulty
Peter Pan is at the Liverpool Empire until December 29, 2019. For more information, click here.