With its audience participation, catchy music, comic innuendos and laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy, THE PANTOMIME ADVENTURES OF PETER PAN ticks all the boxes.
What makes a pantomime? Is it a villain played with comedic menace or his dimwitted sidekick? Is it the audience participation and the music? The innuendo and slapstick? It is all of these things, and this year’s offering from Manchester’s Opera House in the guise of Peter Pan ticks all the boxes.
Tink, Wendy and Peter, played by Samara Casteallo, Jessica Croll and Ross Carpenter, respectively, imbue their roles with the necessary innocence and enthusiasm to connect with the children and their support from the Acromaniacs and chorus is solid and executed well. However, with no disrespect to the titular lead of Peter Pan, the stars of the show are undoubtedly the dastardly Captain Hook and his dimwitted erstwhile comedy foil, Smee.
This year we have a homegrown Hook in the form of Jason Manford, who conveys a knowing weariness within the role, which sends his character up and gets the audience on his side from the start. There may be booing, which has to be practised in the panto tradition, but we know we are booing him because he wants us to, not because we don’t like him; it is verbal slapstick.
Veering more towards actual slapstick is Ben Nickless as Smee. This is Ben’s fourth time in Manchester pantomime, and he clearly demonstrates why he is a much-loved returnee. Playing Smee with a definite nod to Bobby Ball, Nick has it all; mild innuendo, a bit of innocence, and stupidity and instantly has the audience in the palm of his hand. Without giving too much away, the singing routine between Manford and Nickless is a masterclass in comedy. The punchline is signalled early on, but that does not stop the audience from erupting with laughter. These two make a fine double act with possibly a bit of ad-lib thrown in, and their comedy sections together form the highlights of the show.
Above all, panto is about audience participation, and it’s all here; from the cries of “oh yes, he is” and the odd audience member being singled out to the singing and asking for the help of children. This truly is a performance that young children are completely engaged in, and I saw more than one child hanging on every word and action from the stage.
The innuendo whilst there for the adults and older children is that of a mild saucy seaside postcard of a bygone age. In a way, panto is of a bygone age, it is innocent fun. A chance for people to come together and have a good laugh at people acting childish and stupid but old-fashioned it is not. There are topical jokes, digs at the famous, nods to TV programmes and songs modern and not so modern. It is traditional but contemporary, just as pantomime should be. There are still the puffs of smoke and the fireworks, but now we have fantastic graphics and something very special and modern chasing Hook, which brought gasps from the audience.
All in all, this is fun. Fun with a capital “F”. Anyone who doesn’t laugh is just missing the silly point of it all. This was my first pantomime, yet I was shouting out and crying with laughter; if they are all as excellent as this, I don’t think it will be my last.
THE PANTOMIME ADVENTURES OF PETER PAN runs at the Opera House, Manchester, until 31 December 2022.