IT’S not the panto as we used to have it, said the elderly lady next to me at the King’s Theatre; and it is indeed many a long year since the Edinburgh King’s decided to discard some of the best-loved and most time-consuming panto traditions, in favour of a bright, lavish and fast-moving two-hour Christmas family show.
There should therefore be no problem, for the King’s team, in taking on the notoriously difficult task of making a panto out of Peter Pan, a story with no romance, no traditional happy ending, and no obvious role for a Dame. And in the first half of show, director Ed Curtis’ blazingly energetic cast – led as usual by Allan Stewart as the Dame Mrs Smee, Andy Gray as her hopeless husband, and a towering Grant Stott as the villain, Captain Hook – seem to be making light work of the job, sketching out the traditional story of Peter and Wendy, while also making space for plenty of outrageous panto fun. There are some good jokes about Edinburgh and the referendum, the dancing is excellent, the sets and special effects are spectacular, and Stott is in outstanding form as Hook.
As the evening wears on, though, the show’s chronic inattention to the basic storyline begins to undermine the fun, with some scenes thrown in for no dramatic purpose at all, the role of Wendy reduced to a bit-part, and Daniel Healy’s handsome, high-flying Peter Pan left to flounder when it comes to establishing Peter’s basic relationship with the audience. There’s plenty of laughter here, and a welcome return to a traditional final song-sheet. But panto is an art-form built around storytelling; and when that fails, no amount of laughter and spectacle can entirely save a show that has lost some of its heart, and almost all of its soul.