J M Barrie, adapted by Jon Monie and others
Grand Theatre, Blackpool
December 6, 2019-January 5, 2020; 2hr 50min
Like any excitable youngster celebrating a birthday, the Grand’s 125th anniversary year production of Peter Pan can barely contain itself.
It comes piled high with all sorts of seasonal goodies for junior theatregoers – though there may be one or two tears before bedtime, given its running length of nearly three hours.
But no-one will easily forget the sight of JM Barrie’s child-hero flying not just across the stage, but out of it and up into the theatre’s ‘gods’. It’s the kind of theatrical magic usually reserved for Mary Poppins, in even bigger productions than this, and underlines the scale and ambition here.
Peter Pan is one of 11 pantomimes currently being staged around the country by Martin Dodd’s UK Productions, so the spectacular scenery and other special effects come tried and tested. Panto veteran Jon Monie supplies the script, but with additional material from director Anthony Williams and others, including show stars Tom Lister and Steve Royle.
Perhaps that’s why this is a show bursting with energy and comedy, to the extent that sometimes the performances and punchlines roll over each other. Just when the story’s all done, along comes the novelty tumbling act, followed by the songsheet, inviting children from the audience up on stage.
The more stagestruck youngsters, from the local Barbara Jackson theatre school, ably fill the roles of John, Michael, the Lost Boys and junior chorus line, while several older graduates are among the dancers.
Tom Lister and Steve Royle, as Captain Hook and Smee (or occasionally, Brian May and Freddie Mercury!) have a developed double act that gets the best of the boos and the laughs, though this is a show that also shares the gags around the cast. Royle's 17th annual appearance here is another nerveless triumph, whether baiting Beryl on the front row, or marshalling those truly anarchic moments when the kids from the stalls step up.
Jack Heasman is equally confident as a pin-up, up and away Peter Pan – you would have to be to fly so high here; Christina Meehan, another local performer, doubles up splendidly as Mrs Darling and Mermaid; Rachel Grundy skates along as a truculent Tinkerbell; Natalie Hollingworth makes a formidable Tiger Lily; and Ruth Betteridge a winsome Wendy.
Tristan Crabtree, Chris Gage and Lewis Pallett make up the pirate crew of Nitwits and come into their own as the trio of late arrival acrobats.
No-one will feel short-changed by a show that showers its audience with such abundant entertainment – and occasionally water!