Review – Peter Pan, New Wimbledon Theatre

Monday 20 December 2010

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?


Two out of Five: slightly corked or vinegary


20 Responses to “Review – Peter Pan, New Wimbledon Theatre”

  1. otto Says:

    Read your review with interest. When will pantoime producers stop trying to make a panto out of Peter Pan! It never works. It’s a perfectly great play in it’s own right. The story doesn’t follow the conventions of other fairytales that are used in panto and to try and make it work as one writers have to start taking away exactly what makes it great in the first place. Drives me insane!!

    • Ian Shuttleworth Says:

      This one warps it further than most, though. For instance, it excises the parents from, er, this story about the inevitability of growing up.

      I don’t like mince pies at the best of times, but thanks to the Whingers I may well now for ever after associate them with Lousi [sic] Spence. “Dribble entendre” pins him precisely. Come the publication of my FT review, I shall be joining the zero-star hall of fame.

  2. Sam London Says:

    My son’s school took them all to see it. He reported back disapprovingly that the consensus among Year 6 was that there were far too many lame “sexy” jokes.And not enough fun.

  3. Sam London Says:

    And Andrew.. you hv a gleam in your eye suggesting you are far too pleased to have David Hasselhoff’s arm around you.

  4. Dee Carpenter Says:

    I couldn’t agree more..we were pleased to get out, felt more than a bit cheated to be honest. There were so few redeeming qualities and NO magic, that frankly as a very hassled forty two year old mother, I needed as respite from the madness outside! Such a shame really, I will read the reviews before buying the tickets in future.

    • Ian Shuttleworth Says:

      “No magic”: spot on. Imagine all the childlike wonder on the world. Now take it all away again, and that’s how much there is in this show. It’s one of the four worst I’ve seen in 20 years of reviewing (along with Badac’s “The Factory” Edinburgh Fringe 2008, Famous Blue Raincoat’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Riverside Studios 1997 and a Durham student play called “Bastardhead” on the Edinburgh Fringe circa 1992, for what it’s worth).

  5. Michael Says:

    Newly discovered taste: I like panning, especially when it serves a warning to us all.
    Thanks for this; no ticket to Wimbledon for me!

    Merry Christmas all!

  6. Anna Says:

    Can’t agree more with the above comments – really really disappointing production. If you want traditional childrens panto – don’t bother going to see this – is was smutty and crude with jokes that the children (age 11 and 8) did not understand.

  7. […] Beanstalk stayed open after I decided to see it on opening night (and Peter Pan in Wimbledon got trashed, saving me an expensive ticket), I found myself going with a friend to this show, which was early […]

  8. james taylor Says:

    whilst pantos are meant for the children, they are equally meant for the adults, with inuendos and jokes going over their heads, it was a great panto, better than last years but not as good as two years previous.I agree that Peter Pan shouldn`t be a panto, as it just doesn`t work, but for those purists, you shouldn`t have gone!! Both `the hoff` and Louis Spence were fab, although Louis did speak rather quickly as was hard to understand.
    I did get annouyed with the waving of those `light sabber` things and flashing toys, why on earth are they sold in the reception are why are they allowed in the theatre.
    on the whole an enjoyable panto, and shame on you borring people out there.

  9. I was waiting for this review to finish with “… and the whole thing was such a shambles that Phil clambered on stage with his clipboard and his stage notes left over from the Bognor Regis Amateur Dramatics Society production of Peter Pan in 1957, and assumed control of the show”.

  10. JohnnyFox Says:

    Ship spoiled with ha’porth of tart.

  11. hardworkingfamily Says:

    I think the review above is very fair, except for the decision to award it 2/5.

    Why were none of the lead characters able to sing or be funny? In searching for positives, I can only think of the chorus dance numbers.

    Note: Jerry Springer was standing in for David Hasselhoff in the performance I saw. He was embarrassingly bad at being Hook, most notably in his feeble singing and sword fighting.

    I can’t remember seeing a more unlikable production than this in about 20 years of theatre-going. The producers should be ashamed of themselves. Have they never seen a proper pantomime before? 0/5 from me.

  12. Says:

    Your review was spot on – what a load of rubbish. We too saw Jerry Springer and I hope he realises how bad he is and retires forthwith from the stage. I’m amazed that a director as talented as Ian Talbot was involved in one of the worst – no the worst – shows I’ve seen. I can only think that the cast budget went on the two principles (if you can call the talentless Louis Spence a principle) and nothing was left for the rest of the very ordinary cast. Definitely 0 out of 10 let alone 5!

  13. steve fawcett Says:

    were you seeing the same panto? I seen it twice and its outstanding

    A MUST for any hoff fan

  14. darren naughton Says:

    saw panto last night but use the word panto very loosely.
    have been watching pantos for over 20 years and can say with total conviction that this was the worst production i have ever seen.
    i was sat next to my 14 year old daughter and felt very uncomfortable every time louis spence took to the stage for it seemed that everything that sprang from his lips was total vulgarity.
    pantos are supposed to be family entertainment but what i saw was an adult review show focusing on the so-called talents of a reality show wana-be.
    1 out of 10

  15. Peter Searle Says:

    Wheeee-e-e… THUD!

  16. Nick Says:

    You think this was bad?

    You obviously didn’t see Anastasia at the New Players! Complete joke! Peter Pants a close second though…

    To those of you wanting slosh, you should make a journey to see Cambridge Arts Theatre’s annual festive offering. Their slosh is the best in the country.

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