Do you believe in fairies? Traditionally, at panto time, almost all of us do, except some naughty boys in the stalls.
Peter Pan | Eden Court Theatre, Inverness | Rating **** When The Winter Wind Blows | Eden Court Theatre, Inverness | Rating ****
When it comes to Peter Pan, though – and the famous moment when we all have to clap and cheer to save Tinkerbell from death – it’s easier to conjure up that mood of magic when you’re dealing not with Alan McHugh’s current short, heavily-edited and brutally comic pantomime version on show in Aberdeen and at the SECC, but with Will Brenton’s much more leisurely adaptation, favoured by the Coventry panto producers Imagine Theatre, and, this year, by Eden Court in Inverness.
The downside of Brenton’s approach is that once all the classic panto elements have been added – comedy cook Nanny McSmee, two increasingly rare kitchen slapstick sequences, an excellent ghost scene, and plenty of song, dance and fight sequences featuring teams of young cast members from the Highlands – it makes for a long evening of almost three hours; some of the comedy sequences, centring on Ian Wotherspoon’s rather ladylike Nanny McSmee, seem a little laboured.
Everything else about this pantomime Peter Pan goes with a swing, though. A fine Smee (Ross Allan) and a truly world-class Captain Hook (Greg Powrie) lead us through the booing, hissing, and hiya-pals audience participation with terrific skill; the sets are pretty, and the story is allowed a hint of resolution, as the scene returns to the children’s bedroom, and Pan promises to visit, at least sometimes. It hasn’t, and never will have, the same feelgood effect as a traditional panto ending, complete with wedding bells; but it’s tremendous fun, all the same, generous, spectacular, and impressively true to the spirit of Barrie’s original tale.
Upstairs in the Jim Love studio, meanwhile, lucky children under five – and this year, sometimes as young as just one – are being drawn gently into the world of theatre by a gorgous 40-minute show called When The Winter Wind Blows, put togther by Eden Court’s own in-house creative team, which runs the theatre’s vast Highland-wide programme of classes and activities. Devised by the team and directed by the theatre’s creative manager Katyana Kozikowska, the show is set in a snowy Arctic wonderland complete with a little igloo that opens up to show the domestic world inside, and features a girl called Kaya, beautifully played by Lorraine Hemmings, who gets the chance, on her birthday, to tell six wishes to the winds that rush round her home, represented in big swirling dance movments by Louise Marshall and Laura Johnston.
Using almost no English words – just “wish” and “wind” – the story leads us through the essential elements of a vast-vanishing Inuit way of life: the bird, seal, husky dogs, owl and reindeer that Kaya wishes to meet, along with a beloved lost grandma, and the simple household tasks – fishing, sledge-pulling, drying the fish for the winter – she has to carry out in between wishes. And at every point, the children get a chance to help; in a magical encounter with the far north that might just fire their imaginations for a lifetime, made just for them, at Eden Court.
• Peter Pan Until 10 January, When The Winter Wind Blows until 31 December