It’s 50 years since the King’s Theatre launched its first family pantomime and almost a year ago to the day since it was announced that the 50th pantoversary show would be the never-before-seen Peter Pan. A host of panto favourites and TV talent were cast: Glasgow’s favourite panto villain Gavin Mitchell, riding high on the success of a record-breaking run at mega-arena The Hydro in the recently resurrected Still Game stage show would take the role of Captain Hook, Scottish TV stars Greg McHugh (Gary Tank Commander, Fresh Meat), Scott Fletcher (Gary Tank Commander, River City) would be Smee and Peter Pan and comedian and Capital Radio presenter Des Clarke, Starkey. Stakes were also set high when it was revealed that an expected 85000 tickets would be sold, a daunting fact that would also test the mettle of most actors.
So when Captain Hook’s ship found itself sailing into some stormy waters; panto favourite Mitchell had to withdraw from his pivotal role due to injury, only to be replaced by Luther‘s Warren Brown who then pulled out 24 hours before curtain up on opening night, it was going to take the most seasoned of veterans to step into the breach and onto the deck of the Jolly Roger at the eleventh hour. That veteran turned out to be Alex Bourne, an established West End actor, having starred as Buddy in the Buddy Holly Story, played six years as Khashoggi in We Will Rock You and Oliver Award nominated for his dual role as Fred Graham/Petruchio in Kiss Me Kate at Chichester Festival Theatre and the Old Vic.
It is testament to Bourne’s professionalism and talent that with a mere few days rehearsal we get a word perfect, classic pantomime villain. The only pity being, that having heard Bourne’s wonderful voice in previous roles, we don’t get to hear it here. He deserves applause for merely agreeing to take this on, that he does it so well deserves a standing ovation.
This is no radical re-boot of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale nor is it a slavishly faithful re-telling, rather its a local re-working that sticks fairly closely to the major plot lines of the story: the Darlings are asleep in their beds in Glasgow when Peter Pan comes to visit, taking them on the adventure of a lifetime to Neverland via Tiger Lily’s camp, Dead Man’s Rock and of course Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger.
As with almost all pantos, subtlety has gone out of the window, though not too far in this case; the script gets laughs in all the right places from the audience of all ages and manages to refrain from cheap innuendo to do so, the design is relatively tasteful and naturalistic rather than garish and tacky and the music is a mixed bag of relatively recent hits and familiar old classics.
However the amplification levels of the orchestra, who it must be said were absolutely top notch, seemed to be set to stun or should I say deafen – coming in somewhere between road drill and jumbo jet take off, rendering the vocals of Joanne McGuinness (Wendy) and Jenny Douglas (Tiger Lily) inaudible; both have proved to have strong vocals in other productions so maybe a better balance is called for.
The stand out star though is McHugh, who utilises his persona as the effete Gary Tank Commander to full effect. With a raise of an eyebrow or a deadpan aside he has the audience in tears. He has you wishing the scenes away when anyone else is on just to see what he comes up with next. McHugh is ably supported by fellow comedian Des Clarke who, in his third appearance in panto at the King’s, knows just how to wrap a Glasgow audience around his little finger. The ensemble and supporting cast too deliver solid performances throughout.
It all adds up to become classic, family friendly entertainment of the highest order.
Runs until Sun 11th January 2015