Darren Day is outstanding in this year's Mayflower panto in Southampton
Peter Pan, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until January 5.
When it comes to the big effects, the Mayflower – just as it always does – wins the battle of the pantos hands down.
We’ve got a huge pirate ship sailing out at us, steered by Wet Wet Wet’s Marti Pellow, no less, as Captain Hook.
And maybe best of all, we have got an absolutely enormous crocodile just ready and willing to gobble him up.
There are also some fantastic video projections. The journey to Neverland has probably never been more spectacular.
But where this panto really soars is in the fact that, crucially, it’s also a panto with heart – thanks largely to Darren Day in the Buttons-type role as Mr Smee.
The second half opens with a superb world tour of flags and gags, quite brilliantly done by Day.
He is also terrific with the kiddies when they are brought up onto the stage in the time-honoured tradition.
How they are treated always seems a key indication of a panto’s quality.
Day shows himself to be a total natural with them, and it’s lovely to watch.
Adding to the comedy are the Grumbleweeds as the Pirates – and they deliver a fantastic routine with a bit of song sabotage, their best moment after a couple of earlier appearances which really rather fizzle out.
In a whistle-stop summary of the whole night, Day as Mr Smee rightly acknowledges that the Grumbleweeds really haven’t got anything at all to do with the plot, and that’s certainly a weakness in the show.
Somehow they needed to be much more integrated. They would sparkle much more… though it has to be said their “ship in a bottle” gag is probably the best (or maybe the worst) of the panto season so far.
Otherwise, this is a panto which at times maybe leaves the story a little bit too far behind.
In the very best Peter Pans, Captain Hook dominates as a malevolent presence, especially when he isn’t actually there.
His menace needs to be felt throughout.
Pellow isn’t really given the chance to do that.
He gives a fine performance, but it feels just a little too much of a walk-on part.
Some attention also needs to be given to the sound balance when he’s singing. The band was simply too loud for his words to be heard – which is a great shame given just who he is and all that he has achieved.
But in spirit this is high-class panto, particularly in a second half much stronger than the first – which is, of course, the right way round.
Adding to it all is a great performance vocally from Micha Richardson as Tiger Lily. There is also remarkable work, in both halves, from The Timbuktu Tumblers – breath-taking as they dive and tumble with precision timing; astonishing as they do so over fire... all part of the very rich tapestry of this year’s Mayflower panto.
Tickets for Peter Pan at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre are available on www.mayflower.org.uk or 02380 711811.