Friday, 22 December 2017

REVIEW: Peter Pan at the Birmingham Arena and the Wembley Arena


Peter Pan at the Birmingham arena (for 4 days) and at Wembley arena (2 days) is billed as the worlds biggest pantomime and by some measures it is . The vast auditorium seating 5000 and a cast of 100 with two big stars in Bradley Walsh and Martin Kemp promises a lot but somehow the story gets lost in translation to this vast space . What we are left with is a Christmas variety show with a comedy ring master and a loose connection between each scene.

The problem is visible as soon as you settle into your cramped seat with a £10 programme in hand . No one has a good view of all the action as the long thrust stage runs through the lower tier seating and half the audience are viewing side on. The large LED screens which are used for some excellent scene setting visuals as well as close up projections of the action become the main way to work out what is going on as the cast fill the available space on the stage and spill onto the large walkway in front of the tiered seating .

There is no magic in this production. When Peter first appears high up at the back of the auditorium you hope he might fly down to the stage but he does not. When he and Wendy do eventually fly they emerge from behind the screens with the full pulley system on show . Worst still when overage Michael and John fly you can see the stagehand pulling hard on the manual lift. When the crocodile finally appears he can only get half way along the thrust stage so the pirates including Hook have to walk back to it and throw themselves at it. You can see these key moments done so much better in many theatres around the country this year.

The desire to turn this into an arena show means we lose most of the story and much of the meaning. In its place we are offered variety acts, BMX trick cyclists, fire breathers, acrobats, a spurious comedy slosh scene, flying mermaids spinning by their hair and an impressive large pirate ship. The problem with the ship is that it has to be pulled on ropes around the walkway and in the second act is required to sail backwards: meanwhile it is difficult to hear what the characters on board are saying, let alone see them clearly. Only at the end of Act 1 when Tinkerbell is revived and rises up into the roof as water fountains splash around the stage do we catch a glimpse of what this show might have been.

Bradley Walsh has to orchestrate this mayhem and is at his cheeky chappie best on his own chatting to the audience from a rowing boat or amongst the audience or leading a Christmas singsong. His warm personality and big stage presence is wasted in this production but no doubt the fees are excellent !

Martin Kemp as Hook looks the part but has no sense of villainy, jeopardy or threat and becomes invisible in the production. He too could do so much more. Peter Pan himself has none of the innocence and self importance that the character demands. The vast supporting cast are full of energy and effort and probably have fun in the show but generally merge together in a blur of colour or are overwhelmed by the large screen projections.

If you are looking for a lively Christmas family variety show somewhere between cirque du soleil and big top circus then this might work but if you are looking for a strong magical traditional Christmas pantomime then any large city theatre has a better offer for you and your kids. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★
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