BWW Review: PETER PAN, Lyceum, Sheffield
Peter Pan, the latest pantomime from Sheffield Theatres and Evolution Productions, fizzes with energy.
The cast give exuberant performances, with some excellent wire work from Milkshake! presenter David Ribi as Peter Pan. Shaun Williamson (Hook/Mr Darling) laps up both of his roles, as does fellow soap favourite Wendi Peters (Mrs Darling/various).
Lyceum panto stalwart Damian Williams is present as Mrs Smee, wearing incredibly elaborate costumes with the best selection of Doc Martens and Converse I've ever seen! One sketch where he and Williamson deliver a barrage of fruit and veg puns using lots of props is a highlight - it might seem like simple humour, but is actually very well crafted and difficult to execute.
There's a good balance of action, comedy and musical interludes - involving impressive stunts from the Diamond Acrobats and high-energy group dance routines that will keep everyone smiling.
The production is incredibly well designed, with a beautifully realised rotating set (courtesy of Helga Wood) that enables swift transition in different settings and looks fantastic at each turn. Video projection effectively masks extensive scene changes.
However, the source material is not as cleverly updated as it could be. It is always a strength of Sheffield Theatres' pantomimes that the scripts are customised for this setting and brought up to date with contemporary references, both in the dialogue and the songs.
It's a shame, therefore, that little has been done to compensate for the iffy racial and gender representations in the original Peter Pan. Sure, Tiger Lily gives a rousing speech to Wendy about female empowerment, but the character of Wendy remains quite insipid and lacking in agency right to the end.
Even more noticeable is the stereotypical description of 'Red Indians' (referred here to either as 'Indians' or 'natives'). The costumes here could have come from a 1970s fancy dress shop and the performances are full of stereotypical gestures (wah-wahs, broken English etc.). Even if deliberately over the top, this depiction feels very uncomfortable in 2018.
Of course, it would probably be too big a challenge to cast Native American actors in a regional UK panto, but there could have been other concessions made to updating this group. At the very least, some (even tongue-in-cheek) acknowledgement of the fact that these were crude stereotypes would have helped.
At least Tiger Lily is played by a mixed-race actress (CBeebies' Gemma Hunt) rather than a white performer, but it's uncomfortable watching Wendi Peters (as Chief Squatting Cow) speaking broken English in a Native American headdress, even if it is delivered in a Northern accent.
I appreciate these concerns can seem churlish given we're dealing with pantomime, but this production successfully marries the traditional and contemporary through referencing the likes of Taylor Swift and Jodie Whittaker's Doctor Who, so it could surely be updated in other ways, too.
The crowd were in good spirits and there is plenty to keep children interested whilst not alienating the adults. The sets, lighting and special effects all dazzle - it's just a shame it couldn't take a more contemporary approach to the source material at the same time.
Peter Pan is at the Lyceum, Sheffield, until 7 January, 2019.
Photo by Robert Day