Panto’s a weird artform. We want fresh and new, but we also want old and familiar, and they both have to happen at the same time.
It’s a tricky balancing act, but the Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre has nailed it; Peter Pan is the theatre’s best panto since 2011’s Cinderella.
Paul Hendy and Emily Wood’s Evolution Productions has been responsible for the last 12 pantomimes at the Marlowe and it’s apparent that one of their greatest strengths is in building cohesive casts.
Unlike most pantos, Peter Pan isn’t built around one or two star turns who are left to make or break the show.
Although this cast includes well-known faces like Wendi Peters, Shaun Williamson and kids TV personalities David Ribi and Gemma Hunt, none of them is left to carry the production, and you come away with a clear sense that this is an ensemble without ego.
That said, there are stand-outs, and the MVP award is shared between Ben Roddy and Lloyd Hollett who revisit their well-rehearsed double act. Roddy is the Marlowe’s dame-on-retainer and now is as much as an attraction to regulars as any of the celebrity cast members. I’d have liked to see more of him flirting with uncomfortable dads in the audience, but I feel I might be in the minority. His exuberance is mirrored by Hollett who gets better year after year.
The show makes smart use of a three-sided truck, which can be Hook’s pirate ship, an Indian reserve, or home to the Lost Boys, depending on the scene. Its deployment is seamless and is far more effective than simply using drops.
The quality of music is always exceptionally high and musical director Chris Wong outdoes himself this year. He’s never afraid to stray from the norm and blend different artists together, and this year he pays homage to acts as diverse as Britney Spears, Sondheim, Nirvana, Taylor Swift and The Dropkick Murphys.
So what’s not quite right? Not a whole lot. The traditional Ghost Bench Gag makes a late appearance but doesn’t work as well as usual due to the ghost being flown in. It doesn’t allow for the necessary flow, and sort of spoils the skit’s internal logic. If that sounds like a petty criticism of a pantomime, you’re right, but there really isn’t an awful lot to criticise here.
This is a panto worth travelling to see.