‘Pantos are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get next’. So famously said Forrest Gump (um, sort of) and having reviewed local pantos solidly for nine years I can tell you he’s absolutely right. One year you rock up to the theatre and find yourself reeling with laughter in the aisles at a barrage of brilliant ‘over-their-heads’ X-rated jokes, while your children casually stuff their faces with E-numbers and wonder why mummy is in hysterics. The following year the panto has turned back time, and feels as innocent and provincial as a Sixties day trip to Butlins.
So where does Wycombe Swan’s new panto Peter Pan pitch itself? Starring EastEnders‘ bad boy Jake Wood and Benidorm’s sleazy Jake Canuso, two giants of TV love rattism, the potential for sly adult humour seemed immense, but actually, apart from a repeated flirtation between Canuso and the audience, this is a panto aimed squarely at the under 12s, and judging by the shouting in the theatre, they loved it.
Jake Wood made a decent fist of a menacing Hook, and Canuso warmed up after a slightly stilted start and found his funny bones in the second half. Jamie Brook as Smee is that classic British all-round entertainer, happy whipping up the audience, belting out theme tunes (Bob the Builder and Teletubbies – I kid you not!) and shouting out birthday wishes.
The female leads were particularly strong singers, with Olivia Stansbury as Wendy and Giselle Byron as Tiger Lily both able to belt out a tune, though they couldn’t match Niki Evans (fourth in the 2007 X Factor if you can remember that far back) for power and charm; that woman has a serious pair of tonsils.
Watching the stars dancing Gangnam Style and ‘flossing’ was too much for my 12 year old (school kids being more brutal about discarded trends than any waspish fashion editor), but the truth is we weren’t quite the target market for this panto. When Jamie Brook asked the audience if they’d enjoyed themselves, the squeals of delight from the primary school contingent were unmistakable. After the 18 months we’ve all endured, no wonder parents sighed with relief. Job done.
Peter Pan, until 2 Jan.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Primary school children, EastEnders fans, fans of a more innocent style of panto.
Not for: Parents expecting to cackle with double entendres at very turn – it’s not going to happen.
Peter Pan, 10 Dec – 2 Jan. Tickets from £15.50. Wycombe Swan, St. Mary Street, High Wycombe, HP11 2XE.