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Peter Pan (Susan Elkin reviews)

Peter Pan
By Stephen Duckham, based on the story by J.M. Barrie.
society/company: GDS Productions
performance date: 21 Feb 2020
venue: The Brook Chatham, Kent ME4 4SE
 

Every year I set off to the GDS annual panto in Chatham thinking: “Panto in February? No, I’m not in the mood.” Than I get there and realise it’s actually rather a good idea to provide a family show for half term and of course, panto doesn’t have to be seasonal.

It’s an unusual Peter Pan in other ways too. GDS has clearly got gender blind casting cracked (possibly partly because it has fewer male members than it would like but never mind). John and Michael are played by juvenile girls – Charlotte Galea and Xanthe Gwatkin – both of whom are delightful actors with lots of stage presence. Most of the lost boys are, in fact, girls with Rachael Heard doing lovely work as a feisty Tootles. The pirates have an suitably motley, ragged, piratical edge because they’re a diverse bunch in terms of age and size as well as gender with Emma Constantine strong as a cuddly, Cornish Smee getting close to Marianna Allen who, as Nanny Nora presents a sort-of Dame.

Stephen Duckham’s script/book, a version which was new to me, is well thought out too – a lot of quite close reference to the original JM Barrie with some rather ingengious liberties such as taking Nanny Nora to Neverland and developing her into the mother figure rather than Wendy. Personally I could have done without her alcoholism and mildly risqué lines but Allen does it well enough and the rest of the audience seemed to like it. Another departure from most other productions is a simple low-tech, but very effective, way of conveying the flying when you’re trying to keep the budget down and not set yourself up with a whole folder full of health and safety issues.

The real show stealer, though, is Emilio Nieta as Captain Hook. He is head and shoulders above everyone else in every sense. He follows the tradition of being costumed like Charles II and speaks the most gloriously dishy/sexy heightened RP with a resonant echo on it. When he sings – not perhaps his greatest strength – you can still feel the power of that voice. He uses every inch of his long body to express disdain, determination and malice except when he hears the crocodile and crumples, ludicrously, into a frightened six year old. He commands the stage whenever he’s on it and is one of the best Hooks I’ve ever seen – and there have been dozens over the years.

I also quite liked Joe Warrilow as a slightly older and less boyish Peter than some but he is pretty watchable especially when he’s mimicking Hook’s voice and laughing with the others. Rhea Baker delights as Wendy – lots of poise and a good singing voice – and Carly Harwood makes a good fist of Tiger Lily with angular dancing (choreography by Bethany Kimber) and attractive singing.

Meanwhile Peter Bailey’s five-piece band are supporting all this from their usual corner below stage right. There’s a lovely moment when Nieta is singing a silly song on stage and the band members all wave coloured panto wands in rhythm at the same time as playing.

It’s an enjoyable couple of hours of family theatre. Panto, like a dog, is not just for Christmas. QED.

 

First published by Sardines: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-GDS%20Productions-Peter%20Pan&reviewsID=3874

Author information
Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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