Tuesday, 24 December 2019

REVIEW: Peter Pan at the Liverpool Empire

Pantomime is a great British Christmas tradition which brings whole families together but a recent development has helped make it even more accessible for everyone with "relaxed performances" aimed at people with learning or sensory disabilities. These performances reduce sound, lighting and pyrotechnics to lessen sensory overload , edit most frightening scenes and have house lights on to allow people to leave auditorium if they need to. The Empire version of Peter Pan had its relaxed performance on Friday 20th December at 2pm and it was clear from the start that the cast enjoyed it as much as the audience. They all came on to introduce themselves to the audience out of character before the start and to explain that Hook was really a very nice man! 

In any case the emphasis of the production is on a lively fun and daft version of the famous story with much of the traditional story jettisoned. There is no Mr and Mrs Darling in the nursery, no "kiss" given to Wendy, no shooting of the "Wendy bird" as she arrives in Neverland and no marooners rock scene. In addition Tiger Lily becomes Tiger Billy (Asa Elliott) and a new character is introduced with Cut-Lasses Kenneth (Tony Maudsley), the hairdresser addition to the pirate crew direct from Benidorm Live.

The focus of the show is on Liverpudlian comic John Evans as Smee who is natural funny man and is the centre of attention from his first appearance on a surf board through the whole show until the final traditional songsheet with four very young children. They create a fresh twist on the Mr Who, Mr What and Mr Idontknow routine with a roll call of Yoo, Himm, Who and What which works well and then disturbs the romantic duet between Wendy (Cristina Hoey) and Billy perched on a wall. They also include the familiar gags on how to woo a lady, kissing an injured finger and the overused "if I were not in neverland" routine of choreographed chaotic assaults on Kenneth. As always these routines get a great response from the audience and have become part of a standard QDOS production. 

Louis Emerick makes a gently evil Hook getting the required boos but more
frightened of a ticking alarm clock than the crocodile that finally appears at the end of Act one with "Crocodile Rock". The second act largely abandons the storytelling to stage a series of variety tableaux. Niki Evans opens Act 2 as Mimi, the magical mermaid although as one character notes she performs no magic. Instead she pleasantly sings a Tina Turner hit "Rolling on the river " followed by "Yellow Submarine" accompanied by a chorus dressed as octopuses and lobsters in a slightly odd Beneath the waves scene. This is followed by an even odder fantasy scene with clams and mermaids in "something's going to happen tonight". Smee's recap of the show so far is another overused filler in the second half. 

This was a very well judged relaxed performance with music and sound below normal levels and a gentle comic pace which kept the young audience engaged and the Liverpool Empire are to be applauded for this accessible performance. But there are more spectacular Peter Pan productions and ones that stick close to the original story which I prefer.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls row L | Price of Ticket: £32
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