Hastings Battleaxe was a little concerned about being asked to review Peter Pan at the White Rock with the incentive of free seats for me and Philosopher, VIP drinks and nibbles - would one's critical integrity be compromised? Well, I needn't have worried. I can genuinely say we really enjoyed ourselves. Peter Pan is excellent. Battleaxe recommends!
The packed theatre was full of excited children having a great time, so noisy that our ears were ringing for hours afterwards.
We've never even been to a fully staged production at the White Rock before. You don't get that much in the way of lavish stage sets, flashy lighting or loud smoky explosions at the Piano Concerto competition... the panto has plenty of all those.
Boy-band singer Jaymi Hensley, as Peter Pan, is every young (or maybe not so young...) girl's dream of a handsome, smiling, bright-eyed young man in a skimpy costume flying in through the bedroom window... He has a strong, melodious singing voice, a good stage presence and manages the technicalities of the role well. In the classic 'I believe in fairies' scene, he has to fly around above the stage, belting out 'You raise me up...' while also holding up the dying Tinkerbell's dimming light.... not bad going.
Captain Hook, played by Shaun Chambers, has a truly excellent pirate costume. Battleaxe was sitting next to another invited guest, Roger Crouch, the Hastings Pirate Day supremo. Who could know more about pirates than Roger? Anyway, Hook swashbuckled and leered around the stage in his fine clothes very convincingly, his every appearance greeted with deafening boos and catcalls from the audience.
As is traditional, Captain Hook was played by the same actor as Mr Darling. It's only when you see Peter Pan as an adult that the darker psychodynamics of the roles become evident. Mr Darling, the severe, repressed father, turning into Hook, the fantasy 'bad' parent.... Interestingly, in this production, presumably to economise on big-part players, the same person (Katriona Perrett) played Mrs Darling and Tinkerbell. Aha, Melanie Klein would have loved it. As Tinkerbell, the 'good' parent struggles with her jealousy of Wendy, her growing daughter, who is hailed as 'mother' by the lost boys...
This Tinkerbell was a robust, rough and ready sort of fairy with good comic timing, who kept on exploding loudly. Then there was Eliza the maid/Tiger Lily the Indian maiden/cabin 'boy' on the Jolly Roger, played by Danielle Perret. She too was a strong performer. For me, one highlight of the show was a line-up of Smee, Tiger Lily and a few pirates all wielding truncheons, cricket bats, frying pans, boxing gloves etc. singing about what they'd do if they didn't work for Captain Hook and, inevitably, beating up poor Smee.
What else? Wendy (Nina Bell) was suitably sweet, the little brothers and the lost boys were cute, the dancers hoof-hoofed, the music rumpity-tumped along. Oh, and I liked the gorillas..... the screaming from the audience practically blew the roof off.
So, was there anything the Battleaxe didn't like? I wouldn't be me if I didn't find something. Well, the crocodile was a bit unrealistic and you only ever saw his head. Nana the dog looked somewhat overfed. When the women were singing solo, you couldn't hear their words very well. But with all that going on, who needs words?
I guess that while bigger children clearly loved the thing to pieces, tiny ones might find it a bit loud and scary, and a bit long. But what is a proper childhood without becoming over-tired at the panto? At least they didn't have that dreadful business we had to go through, of being dragged up onto the stage. Can I ever forget Torquay, with some horrible old bloke as Widow Twanky trying to make me sing 'The Happy Wanderer'? Fal-de-ree, fal-de-rah...