To say that to die seemed an awfully big adventure might have been overstating things but by the interval of Peter Pan it was certainly beginning to feel preferable to sitting through any more of the New Wimbledon Theatre‘s panto.
Well, it’s panto, but not as we know it.
Where were the villagers opening with “Once A Year Day” or similar doing Second Generation choreography? Here we got an empty stage while some assorted Londoners in a rag bag of costumes sung (or mimed?) Christmas songs from the boxes and side stalls for no apparent reason.
The front cloth rises and we’re in the Darling nursery greeted by a trio of black women dressed as French maids which for one scintillating moment lifted the hearts of the Whingers: it looked as though writer Eric Potts and director Ian Talbot were about to lead us down one of two interesting paths: (a) a radical treatise on colour politics, gender stereotypes and Edwardian class structures or (b) a thrillingly unreconstructed panto circa 1974.
In that split second we didn’t contemplate the third option (c) Dog’s Dinner which is the path (that’s possibly too strong a word) they opted to tramp down, crushing underfoot as they went each and every delicate winter bloom of seasonal family entertainment.
To be fair, there was more than a bit of option (b) going on. Louis Spence (as Roger the cabin boy) is today’s John Inman but without the talent. His often inaudible, camp, lisping, dribble entendre and mincing bottom gyrations are amusing for a few minutes but his talents are stretched wider than his legs (another crass and oft-repeated gag). We wouldn’t recommend Peter Tatchell dropping into the New Wimbledon any time soon as he may well believe that all the gay rights progress made over the last 40 years has been for nothing. A little Louis goes an awful long way and there’s a lot of him in this. Still, you’ve got to laugh when he mistakes the word “clock” for “cock”, haven’t you? Priceless.
Meanwhile the three maids turn out to be a black girl chorus (à la Little Shop of Horrors) who are flown in to dangle over the stage (à la Priscilla Queen of the Desert.) to sing cursorily rewritten songs – Do You Know The Way To Neverland? – while everything grinds to a halt.
Now the Whingers are not averse to a bit of bricolage. In fact it’s a key panto ingredient. But where are the others? Where’s the Dame? Where’s the song sheet, the kids on stage, the sweet throwing, the slosh scene, the topical and local gags, the asides to the audience, the outrageous costumes?
And where are the decent gags? Some jokes are attempted but most never, never land anywhere near the funny bone. There isn’t a single laugh in the first 20 minutes.
In fact, where’s the pantomime?
It looks expensive, but glittery sets and technology doesn’t compensate for real magic. And whilst money has been thrown at the production it doesn’t stretch to new costumes for the walk-down finale.
The most exciting moment was when the Hoffed-up, merry sections of the auditorium almost took over the asylum with various shouts and chants and it became clear that there was no-one on the stage capable of handling an audience. They got by simply by ploughing on.
To be fair David Hasselhoff makes a very creditable stab at his first panto: he’s got the camp swagger and brio and has a nice line in self-parody (indeed, that seems to be his career now) but he is saddled with a shoddy concept and poor material (why did Pamela Anderson swim up and ask for his autograph?). Even he can’t get this travesty off the er, hook.
The audience was encouraged to sing Rule, Britannia.
Even Peter’s creepy farewell to Wendy – “Watch out for an inquisitive face peering through your window” – made Phil feel deeply queasy. It sounded as if the boy had indeed grown up.
We liked the crocodile and we were thrilled when they read out our Happy Birthday greetings to Standard critic Henry Hitchings but this production is surely destined to be Peter Panned. We thought it was Peter Pants.
1. Phil has never actually seen Baywatch or Knight Rider but knew the latter was something to do with a talking car. His memories, of course, go back much further and began reminiscing about My Mother the Car the 60’s American sitcom in which a man bought a car which turned out to be a reincarnation of his dead mother. Ann Southern provided the voice of the car.
2. Isn’t David Hasselhoff tall?