Directors: Claire Drury and James Allanson
Writers: Helen White and Katie Lambert
Producers: Georgia Harris and Laura Stratford
Venue: Central Hall
Central Hall on a temperate Thursday evening may seem an unusual setting to reprise one’s childhood fantasies of joining Peter, Wendy and co. in a rumbustious adventure through J.M. Barrie’s intoxicatingly imaginative world. A universal childhood classic, ‘seen it all before’ is the obvious, if apathetic, thought which initially springs to mind when confronted with this production by the York Pantomime Society. At £4.50 a head (£7 for non-students), the Average Joe could frankly be forgiven for turning his nose up at this show – one with an unmistakeable potential for self-indulgent tomfoolery on stage by an eccentric bunch studying less than intensive degrees. Oh, what an error he would be making! From start to finish, this is a show brimming full of genuine acting and directorial talent, and is sure to delight even the least enthusiastic viewers of musical theatre. Slickness of ensemble work, together with an ample smattering of star quality and a well-weighted balance between sheer silliness and theatrical professionalism makes for a thoroughly enjoyable show with all the quintessential ingredients of excellent pantomime.
Central Hall is a fantastic auditorium and the directors (Claire Drury and James Allanson) have astutely utilised the spaciousness without foregoing the crucial sense of audience inclusivity. The foreground is clear and focused enough for both the roaming soliloquys of Captain Hook (Jamie Beckett) and bustling jazz hands of the musical interludes; the background, raised slightly, is vibrant enough for the credible depiction of a fantasy world while also accommodating the live band in an unobtrusive manner. From a technical viewpoint, variety is the spice of the performance; strobes, lasers, and multi-coloured wash lighting work in tandem with the vigorous movement of the actors to haul audience attention from corner to corner of the auditorium; at one point, front row viewers are even joined in their seats by cast members. The sheer, bloody co-ordination of the whole shebang is striking throughout – it bears all the hallmarks of a show which has been carefully conceived and long in rehearsal. Not a line was missed all night, and if it was, the ability of the cast to ad-lib was unflagging. York Panto Soc. has some seriously capable actors on its books. It was not simply the quality of the performances which impressed, but, much more exceptional, the bona fide chemistry which was tangibly present between the actors. The dialogue between Michael (Diederick Van Wersch) and John (George Hughes) seemed effortlessly natural in its hilarity; so too between Hook and Smee (Ed Wellington). Emma Gallacher as Peter Pan was wonderfully expressive while showing great discipline in resisting the temptation to over-egg her part. Tinkerbell was the star of the show; Lewis Chandler gave a quite remarkable performance which would not have been out of place in London’s West End. His revival of Tinkerbell as a kind of whorish, rough-and-ready Peggy Mitchell was a joy to behold and kept the audience sniggering and chortling throughout.
The script has been smartly adapted by Helen White and Katie Lambert, and is littered with humorous cultural references, poking fun by turns at Jack Wills and Carly Rae Jepsen. Self-deprecation is a strong feature – the production team have recognised the show’s weaknesses and turned them into quite funny jokes. At just over two hours running time, it isn’t the most concise final product it could be, and there are perhaps one too many irrelevant digressions – but it has been written in, in a humorous fashion, so that the characters themselves actually remind us of this. My only regret about this pantomime is that it is not running for longer; three nights is not enough. Only a modest crowd had gathered for the opening night, and one imagines that many who would have loved it will never see it. What more is there to say? This is a swashbuckling, rip-roaring, sausageingly good show – hats off to the York Pantomime Society.