Review – Peter Pan, Richmond Theatre, 27th December 2018

Peter PanAs is our usual practice, Mrs Chrisparkle and I spent a few days in London between Christmas and New Year to do some shopping in the sales, have some nice post-Christmas meals out, and – see some shows! Our first choice might seem a little unusual, but bear in mind three things: 1) Mrs C had never been to the beautiful Richmond Theatre before ; 2) ever since A Chorus Line I’ve followed the career of Harry Francis with great interest and 3) we couldn’t resist the prospect of seeing Robert Lindsay as Captain Hook.

Harry FrancisIt can be difficult to know quite where to pitch a panto. Do you do it purely for girls and boys (Oh no you don’t) or do you do it purely for the mums and dads (can get awkward with the more curious kids) or do you somehow pitch it between the two? This panto was definitely pitched primarily at the kids with a few nuances chucked in for the adults. A very different kettle of fish from Snow White at the London Palladium which we were to see a couple of days later!

Robert LindsayNo sooner does the curtain rise than we see a very adventurous and clean-cut young Peter Pan, played by Harry Francis, breaking and entering his way into the Darling household, as is his wont. Vikki Bebb’s Wendy is a very maternal young thing who’s willing to get into a few scrapes, but not too many because that wouldn’t be sufficiently responsible for her position in the family. Later on, when she wonders more and more whether she has a chance of romance with Peter, it goes right over his head; typical of a boy who never grows up. Mr Francis is on tremendous form, showing us some fantastic pirouettes as only he can, galvanising the audience into childlike excitement, and creating a very likeable and brave hero at the centre of all the action.

Jon Clegg and Robert LindsayWhereas we’d all like to have Peter Pan as our friend, it’s much more likely that we’d end up with Smee instead; a fast and funny performance by Jon Clegg, with some clever impressions and great interaction with the audience. It’s true, we did all want to be in his gang. Such a shame that front-row Georgie never got to kiss his bum (you had to be there).

Rachel StanleyIsobel Hathaway is a spirited Tinkerbell who, appropriately, knows her own mind but also needs rescuing from time to time. Keisha Marina Atwell sings beautifully as Tiger Lily, although unfortunately the script doesn’t give her a lot to do. I also wished Rachel Stanley’s Mimi (The Magical Mermaid) had more involvement in the plot, because she’s a right funny lass who brightens up the stage whenever she’s on. Giving great support there’s also an incredibly good-looking young ensemble who sing and dance their way into our affections as well as creating a lot of nice comic moments too.

Rachel Stanley and Robert LindsayBut it was Robert Lindsay whom we were all excited to see, in his panto debut; he clearly loves every minute of it, and his enjoyment transfers across to us in the audience with ease. He’s always been one of the best song and dance men in the business, so it’s rewarding to see him borrowing his Oliver and Me and My Girl appearances in renditions of You’ve Got to Pick a Pirate or Two, Doing the Pirate Walk (Oi) and – best of all, and which the audience really joined in with – Reviewing The Situation. We were grateful when he likened the young actor playing Michael to Jacob Rees-Mogg because he was only saying what we were all thinking. And he must be due some sort of acting award for looking so terrified as he was about to be gobbled up by what must be the fluffiest, cuddliest looking crocodile that stage engineering has ever created; they must have put the word out that it shouldn’t be too scary.

Peter Pan castMy only criticism of the production is that perennial problem of amplification. From where we sat in row E of the stalls the sound was hugely over-amplified, enough to make your ears crackle and make everything sound tinny. Can I suggest every sound engineer in the country to go and see Hamilton to find out how it should be done? Nevertheless, it was still a very enjoyable show and perfect for a family night out. It’s on until Sunday 6th January and I guarantee a good time!

Jon CleggP. S. You never know what will happen at a panto, particularly when you involve children. The most delightful moment came when Smee got four children out of the audience for the Old MacDonald sing-song. Having chatted and sung with them all, they played the old trick of only having three bags of gifts for four children, so as to create that moment of tension/sympathy/injustice, however you like to react to it. But no one was expecting the first boy instantly to give his bag to the second boy because he didn’t want his friend to miss out. A heart-warming lesson of true generosity for these grim times!

Review – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy Theatre, 6th September 2014

Dirty Rotten ScoundrelsI hummed and hahhed about booking this show because, deep down, gentle reader, I’m a little fed up of the trend to reinvent successful films as stage shows. The story’s already been told in one format – does it really need to be in another? I know there have been loads of great musicals as a result, but I’d really like to see something a bit more original. So at first I ignored it; then ATG tickets rang me up with an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I changed my mind. Yes, the decision to go was price-based. Still, the show sounded funny, it’s always a pleasure to return to the Savoy Theatre; and I’ve always got a lot of time for Robert Lindsay on stage.

Well, I’m very glad that my inflexibility didn’t get the better of me, because Mrs Chrisparkle and I had an absolute whale of a time at this show. We had seen the film before – but it had been some time ago and we’d both forgotten it. Suffice to say, we knew that we enjoyed it, but not why. I remembered it contained a couple of dirty rotten scoundrels, but that’s no great achievement when the clue is in the title. So the plot unfolded to us as a new story, which was very satisfying as it has a delicious twist at the end that came as a complete surprise.

Robert LindsayWithout giving too much away, it’s about rogue serial swindler Lawrence Jameson, who spends his summers in a fashionable French resort, conning rich ladies out of their considerable fortunes. He’s assisted in this by his accomplice, Andre, an Inspector in the local police force. But their happy little business becomes at risk when another chancer arrives on the scene, the American small time crook Freddy, who’s in the same line of work and who threatens to blow the gaff on Lawrence’s little game. To preserve his way of life, Lawrence agrees to teach Freddy the finer points of scoundreldom; and thus they end up working together, challenging each other to swindle the most money out of the next lot of victims. Into their life steps heiress Christine Colgate, and the game is on.

I’d forgotten how good Robert Lindsay is. We last saw him a few years ago at the Old Vic in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, where he was great; but Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is the kind of show where he really excels – a proper old-fashioned musical, with a bit of a song-and-dance, some showmanship, and some stagey razzmatazz. I first saw him in the original cast of Me and My Girl at the Adelphi in 1985 and was astounded at his ability. In fact, I think his only rival for the title of Best Charisma on Stage in a Musical is Michael Crawford. He’s one of those actors you just can’t stop watching. Every little gesture, every look, every aside, is filled with meaning – whether it be revealing something about the character, or letting you into a moment of emotion, or being just downright hilarious. The role of Lawrence is just perfect for him, allowing him to preen, pose and vain it up like a peacock, whilst being brought down to earth with regular thumps every time things don’t go his way.

Rufus HoundMuch of the fun comes from how he so nearly (but not quite) breaks the fourth wall on so many occasions, such as his look of incredulity directly at the audience when we applaud Rufus Hound for some comic business, or, after the wonderful and surreal Oklahoma number, when he offers us a silent throwaway “wtf?” You come away from the show feeling that his performance has been one long tongue-in-cheek in-joke, and all the funnier for it. Actually the script is full of quirks that teeter on the edge of normal stagecraft, teasing us with breaking the usual rules of theatre; like when Act Two begins in the same place that Act One ended, and they make fun of the fact they’re performing the same scene twice. Overall Mr L gives us a wonderful comic performance, let alone his still being light on his feet at 64 (apparently), and vocally still really strong. A true star of the stage. He is of course matched with a fantastic performance from Rufus Hound; it’s the first time we’ve seen him live and I was really impressed at his accomplished stage presence. Relishing every opportunity to look as stupid as possible, as when he is playing out the role of the brother from hell Ruprecht, or being ferociously whipped and having to mask the pain, he gives an incredibly active and physical performance, and together with Mr L they create a perfect comic partnership.

Samantha BondSupporting is a wonderfully funny and surprisingly tender performance by Samantha Bond on top form, as the lovelorn Muriel, always wanting to give Lawrence (masquerading as the Prince of some threatened Ruritanian province) a little more money to help his country’s fight for survival. She’s got great comic timing, and acts out a charming love story that develops with Andre; and I loved the moment when she hangs on to the disappearing balcony rail in another of those quirky stagecraft scenes. In the performance we saw, two members of the cast were indisposed so their understudies were called on, and, my word, did they give good accounts of themselves. Darren Bennett played Andre with wit and panache, and Alice Fearn was a beautiful, seemingly kind-hearted Christine Colgate, with a super stage presence and a fantastic voice. We were also really impressed with the statuesque Lizzy Connolly, who played the horrendous Jolene with enormous verve and a great sense of fun. The sets look opulent, and really reflect that sunny Riviera feeling, as do the costumes; and Jerry Mitchell’s choreography is funny and engaging, bringing out the best in the talented ensemble dancers. The songs are catchy and amusing, and the book is extremely funny – all in all, it’s something of a dream combination.

Robert Lindsay and Rufus HoundAn unmitigated joy – were it not for one really unfortunate blip. I had read reports earlier in the run that the sound system is not up to the job. We had presumed that, months on, all that would have been rectified by now, but no. What I suspect are really witty lyrics in most of the big numbers were absolutely lost by the imbalance of orchestra versus voice. You catch just a percentage of the words, by dint of heavy concentration and a reliance on lip-reading. You know the kind of thing – you catch significant rhyming words like, say, “map” and “crap” and your brain tells you “that’s a really funny lyric that links map and crap, I’m sure if I heard it in its entirety it would be incredibly witty”. You hear enough to keep abreast of plot development, but not enough to savour every moment. It’s a real shame; and we were only four rows from the front in Row C. I would imagine that at the back you would have been completely lost in those big set pieces. Disgraceful really, considering the prices of the seats. Fortunately the show is just so good that you forgive it.

A perfect light-hearted entertainment, deftly performed and very funny indeed. Despite the sound issues, I’d still recommend it without hesitation!