Don’t shout it too loudly but Strictly’s waspish judge, Craig Revel Horwood, is rather a sweetie. He may be the Simon Cowell of the dance world but in Peter Pan, at the Wycombe Swan, he plays the dastardly Captain James Hook as the ultimate gentleman pirate.
He’s the dandiest buccaneer ever to sail into Christmas panto and he delivers a fabulously flamboyant swashbuckling performance complete with lashings of panache and a pirouette or two.
There aren’t many leading men who can pull off a look which includes sumptuous red velvet frock coat or brocade waistcoat with a head of pink curlers (not to mention rocking the Johnny Depp kohl look around the eyes).
But Peter Pan is no ordinary pantomime and this adaptation (a collaborative effort by Jonathan Kiley, Tudor Davies and Alan McHugh) is the best I’ve seen.
Too often productions stick with the traditional JM Barrie story which has a slow opening and ending. You can see young theatre-goers wriggling in their seats waiting for the action to begin.
So, out goes Mr and Mrs Darling. Gone too is the scene where Peter arrives and chases his shadow before being discovered by Wendy, Michael and John. The whole learning to fly sequence has also faced the red pen. There are also cuts to the main story – and all the better for it.
We immediately meet Peter before this fast-paced show flies to Neverland for the familiar story. Tinkerbell whizzes around on flashing rollerskates, Tiger Lily is a heap big beautiful Indian princess in skimpy skins and with a sexy dance routine; and a stunning Mimi the Magical Mermaid washes up as a fishy fairy godmother.
Wycombe’s Peter Pan is the perfect family entertainment with lots of derring-do, plenty of laughs, and a moment of madness when the audience bombard the motley pirate crew with “rocks.”
Director Barbara Evans probably thought that this would be a splendid bit of audience participation – and it is (we had a great time pelting the cast) but it provoked anarchy in the auditorium as children ran amok, for the rest of the show, looking for sponge rocks to lob at the stage.
It provided one of the show’s highlights when Craig Revel Horwood performed a knockout version of My Way while being intermittently struck by random guerrilla missiles. It was hysterical.
Here is a show with something for everyone. Little boys can enjoy the fighting and swordplay, little girls can support the brave antics of the leading ladies, the dads can admire the hot dancers and the ladies can..well enjoy Mr Horwood’s delicious, very slightly camp (but beautifully spoken), performance.
He really is the business. Not many pirate captains can tango and wield a cutlass (though not at the same time).
Paul Burling’s very slick turn as Smee showcases his talents as a top comic. He serves up a succession of spot-on impressions (although his cartoon characters were probably more familiar to parents than their kids) and also performs an incredibly clever skit using popular brands of sweets.
Performing in panto is riskier than I ever imagined. Last week I watched a dame appear in a wheelchair and Peter Pan has a vent-act with a broken arm.
Dawson Chance soldiers on as Seaman Starkey despite being severely hampered by having an arm in a sling. His puppets, Willy and Piddling Pete, are tremendous and had everyone laughing.
Joe Sleight’s Peter Pan makes the flying sequences look easy and the sophisticated lighting gives the effect that he really is unaided.
A magical show that is enthralling from start to finish. Its nimble-footed star might not be the world best joke-teller but his footwork is flawless. He gets a 10 from me.
Peter Pan is on at Wycombe Swan until January 3.
Craig Revel Horwood doesn’t put a foot wrong as the flamboyant Captain Hook in Wycombe Swan’s spectacular Xmas panto, Peter Pan.