Manchester Opera House – until 31 December 2022
Guest reviewer: Daniel Shipman
It’s panto season! (Oh no it isn’t, etc…) Full disclosure: I haven’t seen a panto since I was a kid, and went in to the Opera House’s Peter Pan frankly a little bit cynical. I’d assumed it was just for parents wanting to introduce their kids to theatre – a great aim, but one with not much to offer someone like me. How wrong I was.
This show works perfectly well for that – the children in the audience are visibly (and audibly) having a wonderful time, but this is a hugely entertaining show in its own right.
There is obviously a high budget here, none of the DIY costumes I was used to from the pantomimes of my youth. Director Guy Unsworth has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this show, and it pays off big time. The enthusiastic audience are treated to pyrotechnics, computer generated graphics, and an animatronic crocodile that looked bigger than my flat.
Ben Nickless is a fixture of Manchester’s pantomime scene, returning every year to offer comic relief for kids and knowing winks to adults in equal measure. It’s easy to see why he has such a stellar reputation, with his hugely charismatic stage persona being the highlight of a packed evening. He also manages to ram in more slyly obscene jokes than I ever would have thought you could get away in a room full of children, whilst making it look easy. If his role is to ensure that the parents enjoy themselves just as much as the kids, then he succeeds admirably.
The obligatory star power is provided this year by Jason Manford, but this is no mere case of style over substance. Manford’s extensive comic experience is put to excellent use, with his villainous Captain Hook (boo) creating an enviable double act with Nickless’ hapless Smee.
The whole evening is as camp as a field of tents, and so much fun. What more could you want from a panto. I was blown away. It takes a lot to convert an old cynic like me, but I’ll be making this a yearly tradition from now on.