While pantomimes remain a popular form of family entertainment in the UK, it’s a form of musical theatre with which many young Australians today are unfamiliar. But in recent years, Bonnie Lythgoe (choreographer, producer and director, well known to Australian television audiences as a judge on the first three seasons of So you think you can dance Australia) has sought to reintroduce local audiences to pantos which, in days gone by, have found great favour with young local theatregoers.
Having previously produced Snow White, Aladdin and his wondrous lamp and Cinderella for Sydney audiences, Bonnie Lythgoe Productions has this year bought The Adventures of Peter Pan & Tinker Bell to the stage. The show has already played a season at The Arts Centre on the Gold Coast, will wrap up its Sydney engagement at the State Theatre today, and will open at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre on 21 July.
The Adventures of Peter Pan and Tinker Bell takes the full cohort of characters from J.M. Barrie’s play and novel of the early 1900s and brings them to life on stage in a high energy, highly entertaining and highly colourful presentation that offers children of all ages a memorable and immensely enjoyable theatrical experience.
Those familiar with the panto tradition can expect to see all of its standard conventions included here – a heroic lead male; a villain we’re encouraged to boo and heckle at every opportunity; plenty of slapstick comedy; a popular song or two added in specifically for an audience singalong; and the odd double entendre for the benefit of the adults in attendance.
Leading the cast is a spritely Tim Maddren, who’s no stranger to the panto format – last year, he played prince charming in Cinderella. Maddren proves to be well cast as the boy ‘who wouldn’t grow up’. As Tinker Bell, Jaime Hadwen (who played the title role in Lythgoe’s Cinderella) is similarly spirited as the fairy who’s sometimes overzealous in her protection of Pan. Katrina Retallick, who remains one of the very best leading ladies of musical theatre in Australia, is an ideal choice for Mrs Darling, and Ksenia Zofi (who makes her professional debut) delivers one of the standout vocal performances of the night as Wendy Darling. Meanwhile, Robyn Loau’s impressive pop pipes prove to be an asset in her panto debut as (the politically problematic) Tiger Lilly.
However, the standout performers of the evening are Todd McKenney, whose eccentric take on Captain Hook delivers the audience its perfect panto villain, and UK entertainer Kev Orkian, who plays Smee (Hook’s right-hand man) and also serves as narrator for the evening. The vigour and vitality defining his characterisation doesn’t waver throughout the evening, and with the running time clocking in around the 2 hour 40 minute mark, that’s no mean feat. Strong comedic performances are also delivered by Hook’s band of pirates (Matt Geronimi, Michael Stone, Rick Pragnell and Jay Johns) who quickly become audience favourites.
The Adventures of Peter Pan and Tinker Bell is great school holiday fun for the family, particularly for children under 10 for which this serves as a wonderful introduction to live theatre. It’s a presentation of a story with which they’re likely to be well acquainted in a vibrant production with storybook-esque design elements and a cast that knows precisely how to deliver to its target audience.
THE ADVENTURES OF PETER PAN & TINKER BELL
The Sydney season at the State Theatre concludes today. Final tickets can be purchased here.
Venue: Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Dates: 21 – 30 July
Prices: A Reserve $79.95 / B Reserve $59.95
Bookings: Ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 11 10 11