REVIEW: Brilliant Bradley shines on panto return

MPMC Peter Pan at Milton Keynes Theatre
MPMC Peter Pan at Milton Keynes Theatre

It’s that time of year when you’re expected to boo the baddies and cheer the goodies, the annual Milton Keynes pantomime heralding the arrival of the festive season, writes Alan Wooding.

And swashbuckling his way from our television screens and on to the new city theatre’s stage is the brilliant Bradley Walsh who returns to Milton Keynes as Captain Hook’s hapless shipmate Smee a full seven years after he starred in two previous record-breaking pantomimes – Cinderella and Aladdin – in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

Now highly regarded as a true all-round entertainer, funny man Walsh heads a great Peter Pan cast in this traditional tale penned by J M Barrie which, as usual, has been brilliantly adapted for the stage by pantomime guru Eric Potts on behalf of First Family Entertainment.

It also features the star of The Rocky Horror Show and Jerry Springer The Opera, David Badella who plays the dastardly Captain Hook while 2009 Britain’s Got Talent’s street dancing sensations Flawless play a motley bunch of pirates who hip-hop their way through what is another cracking family show.

Taking the title role as ‘the boy who never grows up’ is George Ure, the talented Scot returning to MK following the success he enjoyed as Boq in the musical Wicked.

Meanwhile Victoria Tyrrell – perhaps better known as a Sky TV channel presenter – takes on the role of Wendy, the older sister of Mr and Mrs Darling’s two boys, Michael (Tobin Fach) and John (Ben Emburey).

Walsh, who also added quite a bit of his own material to the script, had the packed audience eating from the palm of his hand as soon as he made his dramatic entrance, battling his way along the front row of the stalls and making one particular lady the butt of his many jokes.

Supposedly called on to read the three Darling children a bedtime story, there’s instant laughter as Smee (Walsh) points out that the house doesn’t have a roof … so there’s no real point in closing the window to keep the cold out!

While he also takes the mickey out of the family dog Nana (Shane Knight, who also plays an impressive looking crocodile!). Peter Pan then makes his expected flying entrance on a wire as does fairy Tinker Bell (Francesca Mills) whose voice comically changes when she makes any reference to Wendy!

After more witty one-liners and with the three Darling children in tow, Peter and ‘Tink’ fly off to Neverland where they come across Captain Hook, the lost boys, some mermaids and a tribe of Red Indians who are played in alternate shows by a Red and Blue team of youngsters.

It’s a laugh a minute when Walsh is on stage and he certainly knows how to play an audience. There’s the usual ‘He’s behind you’ gag, a comical rendition of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ which involves throwing toilet rolls into the audience while a slapstick routine aboard the evil captain’s ship also involves Flawless.

With two hit street dance films already under their belts and having also toured with the English National Ballet, to have eight members of the Flawless troupe in a pantomime seemed a strange casting. However, they were certainly not out of place aboard Hook’s ship ‘The Jolly Roger’ while their fabulous Second Act dance routine received a standing ovation.

As expected, many of today’s top ten hits were worked into this production, including One Direction’s latest offering while Bradley Walsh’s more serious rendition of Frank Sinatra’s ‘That’s LIfe’ still had the audience laughing thanks to a comical twist.

There were some excellent vocals from Tiger Lily (Rebecca Lisewski) and Pirates/Mermaids (Carole Stennett and Jodie Jacobs), each having solos as well as becoming backing singers in some of the other catchy numbers.

As much as I loved Walsh’s Smee, it was David Badella as Captain Hook who really shone. He commanded the stage superbly, his powerful voice and Brian Blessed-like laugh making some of the very young children sitting near me quake. In fact every time he uttered the phrase: ‘You Really Love Me’, he was immediately booed and taunted by all the bigger kids … a real panto villian!

The show’s glitzy wardrobe, clever lighting and lavish staging – which included numerous scene changes – are exceptional for a regional theatre while the four musicians under the direction of Steve Power and Barry Robinson never missed a beat, their percussion bangs, scrapes and various other noises being spot on when linking with the on-stage activities.

Peter Pan is everything you expect from a Milton Keynes Theatre pantomime production, It’s slick, stylish and good family fun. While it opened last Friday (December 5), it will run until Sunday, January 11, 2015 however with tickets selling fast, those that remain are bookable online at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes or by calling the box office on 0844 871 7652. For group bookings, email groupsales@theambassadors.com or call 0844 871 7698.