BWW Review: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, Royal and Derngate, 2 December 2016
Making the European premiere of Peter and the Starcatcher the not-panto Christmas show in Northampton's Royal Theatre may well have been an inspired move by the powers-that-be at Royal and Derngate. There are no soap stars, celebrities or Britain's Got Talent competitors here, but it does feel like it has some shared DNA with a pantomime. There's a dame - Michael Matus's Mrs Bumbrake; an evilly over-the-top baddie you can't take your eyes off in Greg Haiste's Lord Flashheart-eque Black Stache; and Evelyn Hoskins' Molly is practically a Principal Boy. And that's before you get to the fact that this is a prequel of sorts to Peter Pan. There's jokes about farts for children, about British colonialism for grown-ups and about Philip Glass for the geeks.
But I get ahead of myself. Rich Elice's play sees a cast of 12 on a fast-paced adventure as two ships with two identical(ish) trunks journey to the same place. On board one is Molly, three orphan boys and an evil captain, on the other her dad and (unexpectedly) a crew of pirates. Mayhem and hilarity ensues as everyone tries to get their hands on the trunk with the treasure. Poor Theatre techniques see the cast turning everyday objects - and themselves - into pretty much everything they need to tell the story.
What set there is, is beautiful and inventive, as are the costumes. The whole production is slick and clever. The kids in the audience on press night loved it and seemed to be totally buying into it - the sparse set, the same actors playing multiple roles, everything. But then there are pirates and orphans and magic and clever children outwitting grown-ups, and what more could a kid want from a Christmas show - especially one where grown men are wearing bras, playing ukuleles and singing about being mermaids ("like a mad acid flashback" per my companion).
But that's not to say this is perfect - because it's not. Sometimes the message gets a little muddled and there's just too much going on, too fast. There were problems with the sound design, which saw some of the lyrics get swallowed up and some distracting stray pops and crackles from mics. And the show doesn't really come alive until the second half, when Haiste gets to chew scenery and embrace his inner Rik Mayall to the max as Black Stache with Dan Starkey's Smee to bounce off. My theatre companion actively disliked the first half of the show, but by the end was willing to concede that it had 'redeemed itself' - and it was Stache and Smee who did that. But they're just two standouts in a whole ensemble of strong performances.
So not perfect, but great fun - and I can't understand why it's taken five years to make the trip across the Atlantic.